On June 14 at Atlantis, Paradise Island resort in The Bahamas, one of only two aquariums in the Western Hemisphere to presently care for and study the manta ray, a marine scientist and a team of 20 marine aquarists successfully completed the transfer of a 700-plus pound manta nicknamed “Leyley” with an 11.4-foot wingspan from the resort’s 2.7-million gallon marine habitat back into the Atlantic Ocean, as part of their renowned release and research program.
Leyley’s transfer marks the 13th manta ray release for the resort, whose marine husbandry practices and research have contributed greatly to data collection of the species.
Leyley’s journey commenced at 7:50 a.m. with a comprehensive medical examination, including blood sampling by the resort’s veterinarian and the installation of a satellite tag by Dr. Robert Hueter, Senior Scientist at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. Soon after, Leyley was transferred using a hand-woven net stretched across a custom-engineered frame designed to withstand the weight of a manta, the largest known species of ray. Once she was comfortably settled, the helicopter raised the net on a hydraulically welded frame to ensure her maximum safety and comfort. The transfer took 105 seconds, from lift-off to the ocean.
As part of its multi-year research efforts in tagging manta rays, Mote will track Leyley’s journey and the depths and temperatures she encounters, to help understand the migratory behavior and survival of released mantas. This data will be valuable not only to Atlantis in their care for mantas, but to many aquariums, marine researchers and educators, as they work in tandem to learn more about this one-of-a-kind, mysterious giant of the marine world. The public can search for Leyley and view her migration patterns in near-real-time by visiting: ocearch.org
“We are thrilled to tag and track our sixth manta ray in partnership with Atlantis,” said Mote Senior Scientist Hueter. “We are outfitting this animal with two tags to gather finer-scale data on immediate post-release behavior and acquire some longer-term migration data. We look forward to tracking this animal’s journey and sharing it with the world.”
Background on Atlantis’ marine programs
Atlantis guests are able to go behind the scenes with the Marine Team to better understand how the team of over 165 marine experts care for, rescue and rehabilitate, and contribute to research about over 250 species marine animals. They are also able to participate in the “Snorkel the Ruins” program, which allows guests to come face-to-face with over 20,000 marine animals.
A portion of the cost of Atlantis’ marine interactive programs goes back to the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation (ABPF), the resort’s nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to saving sea species and their extraordinary habitats throughout The Bahamas and surrounding Caribbean seas.
Background on Mote-tagged manta rays
Mote Marine Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr. Robert Hueter and his staff with Mote’s Center for Shark Research have aided with the tagging of six manta rays released from Atlantis, Paradise Island, and have tagged another manta ray found in the Gulf of Mexico.
2008: Zeus was released from the Atlantis aquarium and was tracked for one month, during which this manta traveled to the U.S. Atlantic coast in waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
2011: Apollo was released from Atlantis and tracked for three months, during which this manta traveled to waters off Cape Canaveral, Florida.
2013: Poseidon was released and tracked for nearly four months and traveled through the Gulf of Mexico to the Chandeleur Islands off Louisiana.
2013: Athena was released and tracked for three months to the northeast coast of Cuba.
In 2013, another manta ray tagged by Mote in Gulf of Mexico waters off Sarasota, Florida, was tracked for a month and traveled south to waters off Sanibel Island.