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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 632:145-158 (2019)  -  DOI:

Novel applications of animal-borne Crittercams reveal thermocline feeding in two species of manta ray

Joshua D. Stewart1,2,*, Taylor T. R. Smith1,3, Greg Marshall4,5, Kyler Abernathy6, Iliana A. Fonseca-Ponce7,8,9, Niv Froman2,10, Guy M. W. Stevens2

1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
2The Manta Trust, Catemwood House, Norwood Lane, Dorset DT2 0NT, UK
3Department of Biological Sciences, California State University - Long Beach, Long Beach, CA 90840, USA
4National Geographic Remote Imaging Program, Washington, DC 20036, USA
5Marshall Innovation LLC, Alexandria, VA 22307, USA
6National Geographic Exploration Technology Lab, Washington, DC 20036, USA
7Instituto Tecnologico de Bahia de Banderas, Nayarit 63734, Mexico
8Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas (CICIMAR-IPN), Av. IPN s/n, Colonia Playa Palo de Santa Rita, C.P. 23096 La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico
9Proyecto Manta Pacific Mexico, Circuito Santa Barbara 88, Rincón del cielo 63735, Bahía de Banderas, Nayarit, Mexico
10Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 OES, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Many marine species rely on oceanographic processes to aggregate prey sources and facilitate feeding opportunities. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of oceanographic fronts in the movement and foraging ecology of both predatory and filter feeding marine species. Fewer studies have investigated the importance of vertical pycnoclines (e.g. thermoclines) as foraging queues and prey aggregators. Manta rays, large batoid filter feeders, are believed to rely heavily on mesopelagic and non-surface associated zooplankton prey based on telemetry data, stomach contents, stable isotope, and fatty acid analyses. However, few direct observations exist of non-surface feeding in manta rays. We developed minimally-invasive attachment methods for animal-borne video cameras (‘Crittercams’) on 2 species of manta ray in Mexico and the Maldives, with the objective of capturing feeding behavior at depth. We achieved retention times of up to 4 h using an active suction attachment with a sealant in oceanic manta rays, and up to 5 h using a J-hook attachment on the upper jaw of reef manta rays. We observed feeding by both species on high-density zooplankton prey that was associated with the thermocline, suggesting that this prey aggregator may be important to the foraging ecology of both species. However, we also captured a variety of social and non-feeding behaviors that occurred within the thermocline, suggesting that telemetry-based temperature and depth data alone cannot facilitate an evaluation of the relative importance of thermocline-associated feeding. We analyzed the impact of different attachment methods on camera retention time, and discuss other relevant applications of these minimally-invasive attachment methods.

KEY WORDS: Mobula birostris · Mobula alfredi · Mexico · Maldives · Mobulid · Feeding ecology

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Cite this article as: Stewart JD, Smith T, Marshall G, Abernathy K, Fonseca-Ponce IA, Froman N, Stevens GMW (2019) Novel applications of animal-borne Crittercams reveal thermocline feeding in two species of manta ray. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 632:145-158.

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