Manta Ray
Original Published Date: 
Monday, December 23, 2019

Full article issued by The University of Queensland.

‘Whoopi’ the manta ray—a regular visitor to Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef—has helped ARC-supported researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) and Murdoch University to study rays’ impressive ability to heal.

Whoopi, who has swum with thousands of tourists WA’s over the years, was hit by a boat in 2015, suffering propeller cuts measuring up to 20 centimetres to the edge of her wing.

Dr Christine Dudgeon from UQ’s School of Biomedical Sciences said such a strike was relatively rare, but could cause significant injuries to the animal.

“Manta rays don’t surface to breathe, which you think would reduce their susceptibility to boat strike,” Dr Dudgeon said.

“But these rays, like whale sharks, tiger sharks and other sharks and rays, spend considerable time in surface waters for activities like basking and feeding."

The research team analysed Whoopi's propeller cuts using laser photogrammetry, and found that her wounds had healed by 50 per cent only 46 days after the boat strike, and by day 295 had healed by 95 per cent.

Professor Anthony Richardson from UQ’s Centre for Applications in Natural Resource Mathematics, and Chief Investigator on an ARC Linkage Projects grant which supported the research, said the results were impressive.

“Whoopi showed us just how fast these beautiful creatures can heal,” he said.

The findings have implications for wound healing rates in other elasmobranchs (rays and sharks), and for policies to reduce the impact of vessels on manta rays and protect their critical habitat.

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Photo credit: 

Image: Manta rays heal faster than was thought, meaning that researchers have underestimated how often they are injured by the propeller blades of boats. Credit: Elias Levy (CC BY 2.0).