Visitors to S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore can now witness first-hand the intelligence of reef manta rays – the aquarium’s largest and most iconic species – and their close bonds with aquarists in a one-of-its-kind enrichment session designed to enhance the well-being of these marine residents.
After a few years of positive conditioning sessions, aquarists can now get up close and even syringe-feed the manta rays underwater – a feat in terms of animal care in the aquarium world.
Through daily interactions and close observations, aquarists at S.E.A. Aquarium have deepened their understanding of the unique behavioural characteristics of the three male manta rays.
M1, identified through a black stripe on his underbelly, is a curious and friendly manta who can be seen somersaulting underwater during feeding time. M2, with his almost fully black body and towering presence, is independent and enjoys exploring the surroundings on his own. Lastly, M3, the smallest amongst the three, bears a heart-shaped mark on his underbelly and is a docile member who loves twirling around the aquarists during feeding time.
James Hong, Assistant Curator at S.E.A. Aquarium, said: “Manta rays are one of the world’s smartest fish, with the largest brain to body mass ratio of any fish. To promote mental and physical stimulation, we embarked on a variety of operant conditioning and enrichment sessions, from providing visual stimuli to test their ability in recognising shapes, to feeding at the water’s surface.
“The manta rays responded positively to these conditioning sessions and our aquarists learnt so much more about our rays’ distinct characteristics. Today, we are able to syringe-feed them underwater, a sign of trust and close bond between our aquarists and the manta rays. Such conditioning allows the animal care team to conduct physical and health checks on the manta rays safely and easily when necessary.”
As part of the enrichment, aquarists previously donned specially-customised suits with different patterns such as stripes and spots. It is believed that manta rays can recognise different visual signs and aquarists conditioned the mantas to associate these patterns with food. Over the years, the rays develop affinity with the aquarists and approach them without the need of visual aids.
Manta rays are listed as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN* Red List of Threatened Species. They are threatened due to over-harvesting of its gill plates for their perceived medicinal purposes and their low reproduction rate.
Visitors can observe the manta enrichment presentation titled “Manta Moments” as part of S.E.A. Aquarium’s Ocean Dreams sleepover programme. In addition, the aquarium will host a series of talks and engagement sessions to raise awareness on the threats facing manta rays and how the public can take action to protect them. These include community events in collaboration with the National Library Board (NLB) to increase awareness of manta rays and ocean conservation through storytelling and arts-and-crafts sessions at various NLB branches.
Guests are invited to take part in a “Pick Your Favourite Manta Name & Win” contest from now until 30 April 2019. Participants can choose their favourite names at www.rwsentosa.com/mantacontest and submit a short write-up on the chosen name.
The three most creative entries will win underwater hotel stays at the luxurious Ocean Suite and Sea Trek Adventure to get up close with the manta rays. Ther are other prizes worth more than S$10,000 in total.
Guests can also witness a special underwater presentation where the manta rays will pick their own names on 4 and 11 May at 2pm at the Open Ocean Habitat.
Families hoping to get inspiration for their entries can head down to the aquarium with a limited-time only S.E.A. Aquarium bundle. Available now until 31 March 2019, Singapore residents enjoy online discounts for two adults and one child at S$72 (U.P. S$98).