Study shows krill is important food source for Mobulid Rays

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A new study by scientists at the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE), the University of Queensland, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography was published in Royal Society Open Science last week, providing novel insights into the food sources of four mobulid ray species found in the Bohol Sea, Philippines.

Mobulids have slow growth and reproductive rates, making them vulnerable to overexploitation. Targeted and incidental fishing continue to cause population declines in various locations worldwide, and, as a result, Manta birostris and Mobula tarapacana have been listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and Mobula japanica and Mobula thurstoni as ‘near threatened’.

Dietary studies can inform fisheries and help reduce by-catch through the identification of critical feeding areas, where the occurrence of mobulid rays and targeted fishes overlap. For direct, short-term assessment of diet through stomach contents analyses, access to dead specimens is required, which can be challenging for rare or internationally protected species such as mobulids.

For this study, scientists were granted access to a targeted mobulid fishery which operates out of Jagna, Bohol in the Philippines from November to May. Stomach contents of all examined mobulid species were dominated by the krill Euphausia diomedeae (91% of stomachs contained the species), suggesting that this zooplankton species is abundant during this period. The larger mobulids also contained small mesopelagic fishes in their stomachs in addition to krill.

“Our results show that krill can be an important food source for large filter feeders living in tropical seas with surface waters that are low in plankton at the surface during the day. Krill migrates vertically, staying deep during the day and shallow, including at the surface, at night when the mobulids were caught”, commented Dr Chris Rohner, principal scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation. “Some mobulids had empty stomachs, while others had just finished a huge meal, which shows that tropical mobulids have a boom-and-bust strategy, feeding in dense prey patches when they are available and then undergo a period of starvation until they find the next prey patch.”

Stomach content studies provide a direct, but short-term snapshot of a species’ diet, while biochemical analyses can provide an indirect, but longer-term view. In 2016, manta ray scientists at the Marine Megafauna Foundation in collaboration with Proyecto Mantas Ecuador published a study using non-lethal muscle tissue sampling and stable isotope analysis, which revealed that Manta birostris found in the waters off Isla de la Plata, Ecuador, largely feed on prey originating from the mesopelagic zone (200 to 1,000 meters below the ocean surface) rather than on surface zooplankton. The new study from the Philippines now provides direct evidence to the theory that large planktivores in the tropics and subtropics heavily feed on mesopelagic migrating prey.

Photo: Gonzalo Araujo, LAMAVE


The Marine Megafauna Foundation was created in 2009 to research, protect and conserve the populations of threatened marine megafauna around the world. ‘Megafauna’ are large marine species such as sharks, rays, marine mammals and sea turtles – marinemegafauna.org

Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) is the largest independent non-stock non-governmental organization dedicated to the conservation of marine megafauna and their habitats in the Philippines. LAMAVE strive for conservation through scientific research, policy and education -
 lamave.org

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