Manta rays spotted off Dana Point

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Posted by on September 05, 2007 at 11:57:16:

In Reply to: Rare local sighting posted by Jon on September 05, 2007 at 11:47:03:

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An unusual sighting occurred on the coast Monday when three large manta rays were spotted about eight miles off Dana Point.

Brian Woolley, captain of the Sum Fun boat out of Dana Wharf Sportfishing, at first thought the ripples on the water’s surface were caused by a school of large fish, possibly yellowtail.
Instead, he spotted three manta rays cruising along.

Woolley, captain for seven years, has never seen of them around these parts before. Marine biologists were shocked and excited about the report.

The dark gray rays had a white underbelly and a wingspan of 10- to 12-feet wide.

“They were just kind of swimming along in a formation, staggering one after the other,” Woolley said. “They were just cruising right at the surface.”

When Rachael Calkins, marine biologist for the Ocean Institute, first heard of the sighting, her reaction was “how bizarre is that?”
The last official sighting she had heard about around here was during El Nino.

Calkins speculated that the manta rays came up here because of the quick change in water temperatures during the past week.

There was recently a drop in water temperature to about 59 degrees because of upwelling – when colder water is pushed up to the surface by strong winds. With the hot weather, the water temperatures have shot up drastically since Sunday.

Dennis Kelly, professor of marine science at Orange Coast College, said in his 35 years of teaching he’s only heard of them being here once - and even that was iffy, being that the source was a fisherman who enjoyed drinking.
“This is extremely unusual,” he said. “Very rare, one in a million.”
Kelly thinks there may be a large, temporary current called the “Davidson counter current” coming through from Baja.

If the mantas found their way here, other subtropical fish such as the Wahoo barracuda, large sun fish, green sea turtles, and the black jellyfish that washed up on shore a few years ago could also be making their way to our region.

“If we’re seeing mantas here, there’s a chance we’ll see stranger creatures here,” he said. ”Tell everybody to keep their eyes peeled, when things like this happen, we can see anything out there.”

The manta ray is the largest of the rays. Its wingspan can get up to 25 feet across and its weight up to 6,600 pounds. The rays are usually found in tropical areas and coral reefs, as well as the Sea of Cortez and through Baja, and occasionally in San Diego, the highest point of their range.

During Monday’s sighting, the manta rays came up to the bow, like dolphins sometimes do, and swam with the boat for about five minutes before the boat took off to look for more fish to catch.

“The passengers were stoked checking them out,” Woolley said.

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