With all the different types of marine life in Hawaii, you never know what you will see when you hop in the water. Frequently we will encounter different types of Rays in Hawaii. There are 2 main species of Rays we encounter on our trips and they are the Manta Ray and Spotted Eagle Ray.
The largest of these is the Manta Ray (Hahalua), which is one of the most gentle creatures in the ocean. These cousins of the shark can reach lengths of 22 feet wide and weigh over one ton. Manta Rays will used their cephalic fins and gill plates to filter plankton and tiny fish to feed on. Manta Rays do not possess spines like stingrays, but still should not be touched or held on to. Often these fish can be mistaken for sharks when the tips of their pectoral fins protrude the surface of the water. Much to the delight of snorkelers, they soon realize they have the opportunity to swim the these gentle giants. Compared the their body size, Manta Rays possess a large and very high functioning brain which may signify high intelligence. Different patterns on the backs and undersides of these Rays are the best way we have of identifying them.
The most common Ray we see along the shoreline is the Spotted Eagle Ray (Hihimanu) which is smaller than the Manta Ray, reaching 4-6 feet wide. Like the Manta the Spotted Eagle Ray has a skeleton made of cartilage which is about half the density of bone, allowing them to save energy when swimming. These fish are easily identified by the symmetrical pattern of yellow or white spots on its back. These Rays possess 2-6 barbed stingers at the base of their tail which is a good reason to never try and pet them. Most Rays including these are listed on the Near-Threatened list with their largest threat being overfishing.
We enjoy the opportunity to watch these graceful creatures glide through the water and even perform acrobatics leaping out of the surface. While there are other rays that reside in Hawaii such as the sting ray, they are rarely seen.
Check out this footage of a Manta Ray we often see in Makena.