When Andrea Marshall began studying the manta rays of Mozambique for her dissertation five years ago, she never expected to discover a new species, let alone a globally cosmopolitan, highly migratory ocean wanderer. She was “awestruck by their beauty,” studied the rays, and then gradually noticed subtle differences between them. Species can be cryptic; hard to recognize from others. Individuals are identified by their unique patterns of marking on the body and underside.
The clue to Marshall’s discovery was lifestyle.
“The two species have mainly overlapping distributions, but their lifestyles differ greatly; one is migratory and the other is resident to particular areas along the coast. Other differences between the two species lie in their colour, skin texture, reproductive biology, and the presence of a non-functioning type of sting on the tail of one of the species.”
One species is Manta birostris, the black manta. The other is apparently unidentified. The Telegraph UK reports the story here.
This research highlights the need for international management of highly migratory species, and the fact there is a global fishery for manta rays. But what makes this story great to me is not what Andrea Marshall and her colleagues discovered, its how they roll.
New species are discovered all the time. Americans have a similar situation with the Orcas in Puget Sound. Some are migratory and some are resident. The most impressive aspect here is the collaborators’ multifaceted approach to science communication. They made a movie, they made posters, they prepared their websites for the announcement, and then released their findings. This is the future of scientific communication. Every scientist wants to do be able to do this, but really, it takes a village.
This manta ray research in Mozambique takes a holistic, nearly ideal approach to science and community-based conservation. The press release doesn’t focus on that. Andrea Marshall works with the community in Mozambique. They have a fishery for manta rays. She established a research foundation with a partner Simon Pierce. They downplay the fishery aspect, but they coordinate with IUCN for the global assessment of fisheries and elasmobranchs. It’s like Science 2.0. They seem to embrace every aspect of community.
To round it out, they partner with an NGO, the Save our Seas Foundation to raise global awareness about the issue. They make a BEAUTIFUL video trailer to accompany the story. Then, Marshall announces her results at the American Elasmobranch Symposium in Canada, and tags on the press release. This is a multimedia presentation model for broadcasting scientific results.
The only question we’re left asking is “where’s the paper?” It’s almost a cliffhanger ending. I can’t wait to tune in to the next episode. Congratulations Andrea Marshall.