Rays at Risk from Medicine Hunters

A manta ray swims near an island off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia. Rays are being targeted in increasing numbers for their fins and gill rakers to make medicine - Photo by Boris BialekAlarm bells are ringing for the fate of all manta and mobula ray species because of increased demand for their fins and gill rakers—the apparatus by which they filter their food. Gill rakers are promoted among some Chinese communities as a cure for a host of ailments, and due to that nation’s rapid economic growth, demand is soaring. According to a recent report entitled Manta Ray of Hope: The Global Threat to Manta and Mobula Rays, by Shark Savers and WildAid, the annual gill raker market is valued at $11.3 million—a fraction of the more than $100 million in tourism that the animals generate each year. (The majestic and huge manta ray is considered a prized find by scuba divers of tropical waters.)

The size of global manta and mobula ray populations are currently unknown, with leading experts reluctant to even hazard an educated guess at numbers. Similarly, little is known about their biology and behavior—but what is known is troubling for conservationists: They are slow to mature, are long-lived and reproduce very slowly, birthing as few as a single pup every two to five years. The report authors hope to draw attention to the rays’ plight, appeal for their protection, and offer non-consumptive alternatives to the local communities in order to provide an economic incentive to halt the killing.