By Kate Evans

Did you know that New Zealand is home to oceanic manta rays? Ngāti Manuhiri call them whai rahi, and they have special significance for the seafaring hapū of this area, featuring in the maramataka (lunar calendar), many pūrākau (legends) and even in Ngāti Manuhiri’s contemporary logo.

These gentle black-and-white giants can reach seven metres across and live for several decades. And their favourite place to hang out? The krill-rich waters around Te Hauturu-ō-Toi.

For the past few summers, researchers from Conservation International, the University of Auckland and Manta Watch New Zealand have been zooming around the patch of ocean between Hauturu, Aotea (Great Barrier) and the Mokohinau Islands—the golden triangle for manta ray sightings—trying to find out more about these enigmatic creatures.

By the end of the summer, they satellite-tagged ten mantas near Hauturu and collected identifying photographs of more than 25. Each manta ray has unique markings, which allows scientists to identify individual animals—especially when they turn somersaults at the surface while feeding, flashing their bellies.

Each manta ray has unique markings, which allows scientists to identify individual animals—especially when they turn somersaults at the surface while feeding, flashing their bellies.

One manta, ‘Emmy’, was tagged in the Whangaroa Harbour in the Far North in 2019; she then swam all the way to Fiji, a record migration for an oceanic manta ray. This summer, she was photographed again near Hauturu.

Hauturu DOC ranger Leigh Joyce was treated to a day on the water with the team, and saw plenty of manta action: “It was an absolute privilege to see such beautiful creatures in their natural environment. I was blown away,” she says.

Newsletter editor Kate Evans spent three days at sea in the Hauturu manta hotspot. You can read more, and see the incredible photographs by Richie Robinson, in the current issue of New Zealand Geographic Magazine, on sale until late April.

Photographs by Richie Robinsonand Edy Setyawan

Research

Location Location Location!

Read more

Birds

Secrets of the New Zealand Storm Petrel

Read more

Uncategorized

‘Charismatic Megafauna’

Read more

Working Weekends

Snapshots from an Autumn Working Weekend

Read more