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DO MANTA RAYS SMILE? AND WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH GIGGLING STING RAYS?

Young boy doing shaka in front of raft

People often confuse the gentle manta ray with the sting ray.  They’re not the same.  Manta Rays are harmless and huge.  Martina Wing for Manta Ray Advocates on the confusion of the two creatures and the ‘smile’ of the sting ray.  Join us to create an unforgettable bucket list experience in the water with the majestic and graceful manta rays.

It’s a question we’ve heard regularly over the years: “do manta rays smile”?
That question is often caused by a common misconception: the internet is full of pictures and videos of sting rays with big “smiles” on their face. Too many times, these pictures have been mislabeled as “manta” rays.

When you see (or film, or photograph) a sting ray from below, it’s almost always “making a face”. Sometimes the corners of their mouths go up, which we humans interpret as “smiling”… which we associate with happiness.

DO MANTAS NOT SMILE AT ALL?

The mouth of a manta ray is very different from that of a sting ray.

It’s a large cavernous opening in the front of their body, making easy for water and plankton to enter during feeding. Nature created the perfect “entrance” to catch the most amount of plankton.

DO MANTA RAYS HAVE FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS?

Mantas are sentient animals, just like humans. So the question should be, why wouldn’t they have feelings?

However, we have no idea whether manta rays can genuinely feel sad, for instance, when they lose a mate.

But, we do know that they feel pain when they’re injured, as we’ve witnessed that first-hand on multiple occasions.

The two missions any manta has in life are

  1. Foraging for plankton
  2. Making little mantas

I believe that our Moonlight Manta Swims and the abundance of food at the manta ray viewing sites makes the mantas content. It’s an easy and safe way for them to feed -> first mission accomplished.

The good news is that while mantas feed at the viewing sites, they are not dependent on us; when they don’t show up at the lighted areas (the viewing sites) for months on end, that doesn’t mean they’re not eating – they’re just finding food (and accomplishing their mission) somewhere else.

OR… IS IT JUST US HUMANS WHO THINK ANIMALS SMILE?

Another animal that people like to say can smile are dolphins. But it’s definitely not the case: it’s just how their mouth is shaped. And the noise they make is not “laughing” – again, that’s just the noise they make.

Unfortunately, people use the anthropomorphic lens too often and it continues to widen our disconnect from nature.

So, to answer the initial question: “Do manta rays smile?

The answer is: manta rays don’t smile – they just get confused with their relatives, the sting rays.
And sting rays don’t smile either – just like dolphins, their mouth is just shaped that way.

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