Coral Reefs

pp 1–14 | Cite as

Preliminary insights into the population characteristics and distribution of reef (Mobula alfredi) and oceanic (M. birostris) manta rays in French Polynesia

  • Alice S. CarpentierEmail author
  • Cécile Berthe
  • Isabel Ender
  • Fabrice R. A. Jaine
  • Johann Mourier
  • Guy Stevens
  • Moeava De Rosemont
  • Eric Clua


In French Polynesia, both currently recognized manta ray species, Mobula alfredi and M. birostris, are observed. Despite being an important cultural asset and generating significant economic benefits through manta ray watching tourism, published data on the ecology and threats to these species in the region are scarce. Based on an 18-year dataset of sighting records collected by citizen scientists and during two scientific expeditions, this study provides the first insights into the population characteristics and regional distribution of the two manta ray species in French Polynesia. A total of 1347 manta ray photographs (1337 for M. alfredi and 10 for M. birostris) were examined for the period January 2001–December 2017, with photo-identification techniques leading to the successful identification of 317 individual M. alfredi and 10 individual M. birostris throughout the Society, Tuamotu and Marquesas Islands. We provide the first confirmation of sympatric distribution of both species in the Society Islands. Our results highlight strong and long-term site fidelity of M. alfredi individuals to certain aggregation sites (> 9 years for 16 individuals) and reveal some degree of connectivity between populations, with 10 individuals recorded moving between islands located up to 50 km apart. Analysis of photographs of individuals bearing sub-lethal injuries (n = 68) suggests that M. alfredi are more likely to be injured at inhabited islands (Maupiti or Bora Bora; 75% of all injured individuals) than at uninhabited islands, with 75% of injuries related to boat propeller strikes and fishing gear entanglements. Our findings emphasize the need for further research to allow for a comprehensive evaluation of population structure, size and threats to manta rays in this region.


Site fidelity Citizen science Sympatry Spatial connectivity Ecotourism management 



This work was part of the French Polynesia Manta Ray Project, initiated in 2015 thanks to a collaboration between the Manta Trust and the ORP. We are very grateful to all the divers, snorkelers, and members of the ORP that contributed photographs, especially N. Buray, director of the ORP, Y. Verdez and N. Massoud (Maupiti Diving) for the photographs collected in Maupiti, R. Carter and G. Banton for those from Bora Bora collected in 2016 and their work in analysing some of the historical data presented in this study, and V. Truchet for the photographs collected in Tikehau, as well as: T. Athenol, M. Bègue, H. Blitz, B. Le Bouil, P. Carzon, B. Cauchard, F. Chasboeuf, M. Clavreul, Al. Dargie, A. Deliere, J. Dorio, O. Duguet, F. Farabaugh (Global footprint), P. Fey, S. Gadea, G. Lagarrigue, C. Hoogstoel, L. Lechat, T. Maire, D. Melzani, C. Mulard, H. Mura, M. Petit (Moorea Ocean Adventures), P. Schneider, C. Serin, M. Tavernier, E. Preyzner. We thank E. Germanov for her help in the LIR analysis. We also thank Topdive and Le Méridien, Bora Bora for their logistical and financial support in the Bora Bora data collection. We thank L. Hoarau (RRR) and T. Leclerc (Paradigme) for their help on the GIS, and P. Firouzian and CEDTM/Kelonia for their logistical support during the writing of this manuscript. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on this manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. Adams KR, Fetterplace LC, Davis AR, Taylor MD, Knott NA (2018) Sharks, rays and abortion: the prevalence of capture-induced parturition in elasmobranchs. Biol Conserv 217:11–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adimey NM, Hudak CA, Powell JR, Bassos-Hull K, Foley A, Farmer NA, White L, Minch K (2014) Fishery gear interactions from stranded bottlenose dolphins, Florida manatees and sea turtles in Florida, USA. Mar Pollut Bull 81:103–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armstrong AO, Armstrong AJ, Jaine FR, Couturier LI, Fiora K, Uribe-Palomino J, Richardson AJ (2016) Prey density threshold and tidal influence on reef manta ray foraging at an aggregation site on the Great Barrier Reef. PLoS One 11(5):e0153393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Asmutis-Silvia R, Barco S, Cole T, Henry A et al (2017) Rebuttal to published article ‘A review of ghost gear entanglement amongst marine mammals, reptiles and elasmobranchs’ by M. Stelfox, J. Hudgins, and M. Sweet. Mar Pollut Bull 117:554–555CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braun CD, Skomal GB, Thorrold SR, Berumen ML (2014) Diving behavior of the reef manta ray links coral reefs with adjacent deep pelagic habitats. PLoS One 9(2):e88170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braun CD, Skomal GB, Thorrold SR, Berumen ML (2015) Movements of the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) in the Red Sea using satellite and acoustic telemetry. Mar Biol 162(12):2351–2362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burgess KB, Guerrero M, Richardson AJ, Bennett MB, Marshall AD (2017) Use of epidermal mucus in elasmobranch stable isotope studies: a pilot study using the giant manta ray (Manta birostris). Mar Fresh Res 69:336–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Burnham KP, Anderson DR (1998) Model Selection and Inference: A Practical Information-Theoretic Approach. Springer-Verlag, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clark TB (2010) Abundance, home range, and movement patterns of manta rays (Manta alfredi, M. birostris) in Hawai'i. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hawaii at ManoaGoogle Scholar
  10. Clouard V, Bonneville A (2004) Submarine landslides in French Polynesia. In: Hekinian R (ed) Oceanic Hotspots. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp 209–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Couturier LIE, Jaine FRA, Townsend KA, Weeks SJ, Richardson AJ, Bennett MB (2011) Distribution, site affinity and regional movements of the manta ray, Manta alfredi (Krefft, 1868), along the east coast of Australia. Mar Freshw Res 62:628–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Couturier LIE, Marshall AD, Jaine FR, Kashiwagi T, Pierce SJ, Townsend KA, Weeks SJ, Bennett MB, Richardson AJ (2012) Biology, ecology and conservation of the Mobulidae. J Fish Biol 80:1075–1119CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Couturier LI, Dudgeon CL, Pollock KH, Jaine FRA, Bennett MB, Townsend KA, Weeks SJ, Richardson AJ (2014) Population dynamics of the reef manta ray Manta alfredi in eastern Australia. Coral Reefs 33(2):329–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Couturier LIE, Newman P, Jaine FRA, Bennett MB, Venables WN, Cagua EF, Townsend KA, Weeks SJ, Richardson AJ (2018) Variation in occupancy and habitat use of Mobula alfredi at a major aggregation site. Mar Ecol Prog Series 599:125–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Croll DA, Dewar H, Dulvy NK, Fernando D, Francis MP, Galván-Magaña F, Hall M, Heinrichs S, Marshall A, Mccauley D, Newton KM, Notarbartolo di Scaria G, O’Malley M, O’Sullivan J, Poortvliet M, Roman M, Stevens G, Tershy BR, White WT (2016) Vulnerabilities and fisheries impacts: the uncertain future of manta and devil rays. Aqua Conserv Mar Freshw Ecosyst 26:562–575CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deakos MH (2010) Ecology and social behavior of a resident manta ray (Manta alfredi) population off Maui, Hawai’i. Ph.D. thesis, University of Hawaii at ManoaGoogle Scholar
  17. Deakos MH, Baker JD, Bejder L (2011) Characteristics of a manta ray Manta alfredi population off Maui, Hawaii, and implications for management. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 429:245–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dewar H, Mous P, Domeier M, Muljadi A, Pet J, Whitty J (2008) Movements and site fidelity of the giant manta ray (Manta birostris), in the komodo Marine Park, Indonesia. Mar Biol 155(2):121–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dulvy NK, Pardo SA, Simpfendorfer CA, Carlson JK (2014) Diagnosing the dangerous demography of manta rays using life history theory. PeerJ 2:e400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Germanov ES, Marshall AD (2014) Running the gauntlet: regional movement patterns of Manta alfredi through a complex of parks and fisheries. PloS one 9(10):e110071CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Germanov ES, Bejder L, Chabanne DBH, Dharmadi D, Hendrawan IG, Marshall AD, Pierce SJ, van Keulen M, Loneragan NR (2019) Contrasting habitat use and population dynamics of reef manta rays within the Nusa Penida marine protected area, Indonesia. Front Mar Sci 215:1–14Google Scholar
  22. Harris RN (1989) Non-lethal injury to organisms as a mechanism of population regulation. Am Nat 134:835–847CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Heithaus MR (2001) Shark attacks on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Shark Bay, Western Australia: attack rate, bite scar frequencies, and attack seasonality. Mar Mammal Sci 17:526–539CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Homma K, Maruyama T, Itoh T, Ishihara H, Uchida S (1997) Biology of the manta ray, Manta birostris, Walbaum, in the Indo-Pacific. In: Séret B, Sire JY (eds) Proceedings of the 5th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference, Nouméa. Soc Fr Ichthyol, Paris, pp 209–216Google Scholar
  25. Jaine FR, Couturier LI, Weeks SJ, Townsend KA, Bennett MB, Fiora K, Richardson AJ (2012) When giants turn up: sighting trends, environmental influences and habitat use of the manta ray Manta alfredi at a coral reef. PloS one 7(10):e46170CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jaine FRA, Rohner CA, Weeks SJ, Couturier LIE, Bennett MB, Townsend KA, Richardson AJ (2014) Movements and habitat use of reef manta rays off eastern Australia: offshore excursions, deep diving and eddy affinity revealed by satellite telemetry. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 510:73–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kashiwagi T, Marshall AD, Bennett MB, Ovenden JR (2011) Habitat segregation and mosaic sympatry of the two species of manta ray in the Indian and pacific Oceans: Manta alfredi and M. birostris. Mar Biodivers Rec 4:E53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lagouy E (2016) L’écotourisme animalier en Polynésie Française. In: Rapport final pour l’Agence des Aires Marines Protégées (Final report for the French Biodiversity Agency, Ministry of the Environment)Google Scholar
  29. Laran S, Van Canneyt O, Doremus G, Massart W, Ridoux V, Watremez P (2012) Distribution et abondance de la mégafaune marine en Polynésie française. REMMOA- Polynésie. In: Rapport final pour l’Agence des Aires Marines Protégées (Final report for the French Biodiversity Agency, Ministry of the Environment)Google Scholar
  30. Lawson JM, Walls RHL, Fordham SV, Heupel MR, Stevens G, Fernando D, Budziak A, Simpfendorfer CA, Davidson LNK, O’Malley MP, Ender I, Francis MP, Notarbartolo di Sciara G, Dulvy NK (2017) Sympathy for the devil: a conservation strategy for devil and manta rays. PeerJ 5:e3027CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Le Boeuf BJ, Riedman M, Keyes RS (1982) Shark predation on pinnipeds in California coastal waters. United States National Marine Fisheries Fishery Bulletin 80:891–895Google Scholar
  32. Marshall AD (2008) Biology and population ecology of Manta birostris in southern Mozambique, Ph.D. thesis, University of QueenslandGoogle Scholar
  33. Marshall AD, Bennett MB (2010) The frequency and effect of shark-inflicted bite injuries to the reef manta ray Manta alfredi. Afr J Mar Sci 32(3):573–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marshall AD, Compagno LJV, Bennett MB (2009) Redescription of genus Manta with resurrection of Manta alfredi (Krefft, 1868) (Chondrichthyes, Myliobatoidei, Mobulidae). Zootaxa 2301:1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Marshall A, Bennett MB, Kodja G, Hinojosa-Alvarez S, Galvan-Magana F, Harding M, Stevens, G, Kashiwagi T (2011a) Manta birostris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2011.2.
  36. Marshall A, Kashiwagi T, Bennett MB, Deakos M, Stevens G, McGregor F, Clark T, Ishihara H, Sato K (2011b) Manta alfredi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Version 2011.2.
  37. Marshall AD, Dudgeon CL, Bennett MB (2011) Size and structure of a photographically identified population of manta rays Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique. Mar Biol 158:1111–1124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Marshall AD, Pierce SJ (2012) The use and abuse of photographic identification in sharks and rays. J Fish Biol 80:1361–1379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mazzuca L, Atkinson S, Nitta E (1998) Deaths and entanglements of humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae, in the main Hawaiian Islands, 1972–1996Google Scholar
  40. Mourier J (2012) Manta rays in the Marquesas Islands: first records of Manta birostris in French Polynesia and most easterly location of Manta alfredi in the Pacific Ocean, with notes on their distribution. J Fish Biol 81:2053–2058CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mourier J, Vercelloni J, Planes S (2012) Evidence of social communities in a spatially structured network of a free-ranging shark species. Anim Behav 83(2):389–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mourier J, Planes S (2013) Direct genetic evidence for reproductive philopatry and associated fine-scale migrations in female blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) in French Polynesia. Mol Ecol 22:201–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. O’Malley MP, Lee-Brooks K, Medd HB (2013) The global economic impact of manta ray watching tourism. PLoS One 8Google Scholar
  44. O’Shea OR, Kingsford MJ, Seymour J (2010) Tide-related periodicity of manta rays and sharks to cleaning stations on a coral reef. Mar Freshw Res 61:65–73CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pierce SJ, Holmberg J, Kock AA, Marshall AD (2018) Chapter 12: Photographic identification of sharks. In: Carrier, Heithaus, Simpfendorfer (eds) Shark research: emerging technologies and applications for the field and laboratory. CRC Press, 392pGoogle Scholar
  46. Ramírez-Macías D, Vázquez-Haikin A, Vázquez-Juárez R (2012) Whale shark Rhincodon typus populations along the west coast of the Gulf of California and implications for management. End Spec Res 18:115–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Randall JE, Smith CL, Feinberg MN (1990) Report on fish collections from Rapa, French Polynesia. Am Mus Nov 2966:44Google Scholar
  48. Rohner CA, Pierce SJ, Marshall AD, Weeks SJ, Bennett MB, Richardson AJ (2013) Trends in sightings and environmental influences on a coastal aggregation of manta rays and whale sharks. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 482:153–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Stevens GMW (2016) Conservation and population ecology of Manta rays in the Maldives. Ph.D. thesis, University of YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Stevens GM, Hawkins JP, Roberts CM (2018a) Courtship and mating behaviour of manta rays Mobula alfredi and M. birostris in the Maldives. J Fish Biol 93(2):344–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Stevens G, Fernando D, Dando M, Notabartolo-di-Sciara G (2018b) Guide to the Manta and Devil Rays of the World. Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
  52. Stevens GMW, Froman N (2018) Chapter 10: The Maldives Archipelago. In: C Sheppard (ed) World seas: an environmental evaluation, volume 2: the Indian ocean to the Pacific. Elsevier, pp 211–236Google Scholar
  53. Stewart JD, Beale CS, Fernando D, Sianipar AB, Burton RS, Semmens BX, Aburto-Oropeza O (2016) Spatial ecology and conservation of Manta birostris in the Indo-Pacific. Biol Conserv 200:178–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Stewart J, Jaine FRA, Armstrong A, Armstrong A, Bennett M, Burgess K, Couturier L, Croll D, Cronin M, Deakos M, Dudgeon C, Fernando D, Froman N, Germanov E, Hall M, Hinojosa-alvarez S, Hosegood J, Kashiwagi T, Laglbauer B, Lezama-ochoa N, Marshall A, Mcgregor F, Notarbartolo-di-sciara G, Palacios M, Peel L, Richardson A, Rubin R, Townsend K, Venables S, Stevens G (2018) Research priorities to support effective manta and devil ray conservation. Front Mar Sci 5:314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Venables SF, McGregor LB, Brain L, van Keulen M (2016) Manta ray tourism management, precautionary strategies for a growing industry: a case study from the Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 22(4):295–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Ward-Paige CA, Davis B, Worm B (2013) Global population trends and human use patterns of Manta and Mobula rays. PloS one 8(9):e74835CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. White WT, Corrigan S, Yang L, Henderson AC, Bazinet AL, Swofford DL, Naylor GJP (2017) Phylogeny of the manta and devil rays (Chondrichthyes: Mobulidae), with an updated taxonomic arrangement for the family. Zool J Linnean Soc 82:50–75Google Scholar
  58. Whitehead H (2001) Analysis of animal movement using opportunistic individual identifications: application to sperm whales. Ecol 82(5):1417–1432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Whitehead H (2007) Selection of models of lagged identification rates and lagged association rates using AIC and QAIC. Communications in Statistics—Simulation and Computation® 36(6):1233–1246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Whitehead H (2009) SOCPROG programs: analysing animal social structures. Beh Ecol Sociobiol 63(5):765–778CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PSL Université Paris: EPHE-UPVD-CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBEPapetoai, MooreaFrench Polynesia
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’Excellence “CORAIL”MooreaFrench Polynesia
  3. 3.Observatoire des Requins de Polynésie, TemaeMooreaFrench Polynesia
  4. 4.The Manta TrustDorsetUK
  5. 5.James Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  6. 6.Sydney Institute of Marine ScienceMosmanAustralia
  7. 7.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  8. 8.UMR MARBEC (IRD, Ifremer, Univ. Montpellier, CNRS)SèteFrance
  9. 9.Association Manta PolynesiaBora BoraFrench Polynesia

Personalised recommendations