In the depths of the ocean, where mysteries abound and life takes on surreal forms, there exists a creature that embodies elegance, intelligence, and sheer grace – the Manta Ray. These majestic beings, often likened to flowing cloaks in the water, have captured the fascination of marine enthusiasts and scientists alike. Today, we unveil the hero image of the 2024 Ocean Film Festival, a breathtaking moment frozen in time, captured by the talented West Australian photographer Andre Rerekura. This captivating image features Anouska Freedman, his partner, sharing a dance with a manta ray, showcasing the remarkable bond between humans and these incredible creatures.

Andre Rerekura and his partner Anouska Freedman enjoying the WA ocean.
Andre Rerekura and his partner Anouska Freedman enjoying the WA ocean.

The Manta Ray: Nature’s Masterpiece

Manta rays are not just fish; they are sentient beings possessing high cognitive functions. With the largest brain-to-body size ratio among cold-blooded fish, they display intelligence akin to dolphins, primates, and elephants. Studies suggest that these gentle giants might even recognise themselves in mirrors, a trait indicative of self-awareness and complex cognitive abilities.

The term ‘manta ray’ itself, derived from Spanish, translates to ‘blanket’ or ‘cloak,’ a fitting description of their appearance as they gracefully glide through the water, captivating all who witness their movements.

A Glimpse into an Intimate Encounter

The hero image was captured during a filming expedition in Coral Bay on the Nyinggulu (Ningaloo) reef in 2020. Andre Rerekura and Anouska Freedman were on a mission to document manta ray mating chains for their documentary, ‘The Mating Game.’ This natural spectacle involves female mantas being pursued by groups of males, sometimes numbering up to 14, in a captivating dance of courtship.

Hours spent in the water, following these magnificent creatures, led to moments of rare intimacy. Freediving alongside the manta rays, the filmmakers observed their behaviours and interactions up close, forming a deep connection with the marine world.

'Manta Ray Dance' by Andre Rerekura and Anouska Freedman for Ocean Film Festival 2024
‘Manta Ray Dance’ by Andre Rerekura and Anouska Freedman for Ocean Film Festival 2024

'Manta Ray Dance' image by Andre Rerekura and Anouska Freedman for Ocean Film Festival 2024 ('Poster Image')
‘Manta Ray Dance’ image by Andre and Anouska for Ocean Film Festival 2024 ‘Poster Image’

The Importance of Conservation

This awe-inspiring encounter highlights the magic of the ocean and underscores the need to protect these extraordinary creatures. Astonishingly, manta rays are not yet protected in Australian waters, making it crucial to raise awareness about their conservation.

Project Manta, led by Marine and Molecular Ecologist Amelia Armstrong, plays a vital role in understanding and conserving manta ray populations. Individuals can contribute by sending Nyinggulu manta ray ID photos, which provide valuable insights into their lives and stories. Understanding their behaviours, reproductive patterns, and movements is essential for their preservation.

How to Contribute: Taking Manta Ray ‘ID Photos’

  • Belly Shots: Capture clear black (or white if melanistic) markings on the individual’s belly.
  • Reproductive Organs: If visible, photograph reproductive organs to identify the sex.
  • Dorsal and Pec Fins: These photos can reveal injuries or mating scars, which indicate sexual maturity.
  • Additional Information: Note the approximate location, size estimate, and activity (feeding, travelling, milling, cleaning) of the manta ray.

Every photo tells a story, contributing to the collective knowledge that safeguards these magnificent creatures for future generations.

Examples of Manta Ray ‘ID photos’

As we delve into the mesmerising world of manta rays through the 2024 Ocean Film Festival hero image, we are reminded of the intricate connections between humans and the natural world. Through understanding, appreciation, and conservation efforts, we can ensure that these graceful giants continue to glide through our oceans, enchanting generations to come. Join us in celebrating the beauty of manta rays and supporting their conservation journey, one photograph at a time.

Tickets have just gone live! See HERE to find a screening near you, not to mention these highly sought after tickets would be the perfect Christmas prezzie for an ocean lover!

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