Conservationists from the Wildlife Conservation Society of New York, the University of Exeter in Britain and the government of Mexico have completed a ground-breaking study using satellite telemetry to track the open-ocean journeys of the world's largest ray, which can grow up to 25 feet in width, the WCS reported Friday.
The manta ray, listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, has become increasingly threatened by fishing and accidental capture and now needs more protection, the researchers said.
"Almost nothing is known about the movements and ecological needs of the manta ray, one of the ocean's largest and least-known species," said Rachel Graham, director of WCS's Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program.
"Our real-time data illuminate the previously unseen world of this mythic fish and will help to shape management and conservation strategies for this species."
The research team attached satellite transmitters to six manta rays off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
"The satellite tag data revealed that some of the rays traveled more than 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) during the study period," Matthew Witt of the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute said.
"The rays spent most of their time traversing coastal areas plentiful in zooplankton and fish eggs from spawning events."
Manta rays are declining in the Caribbean and in other tropical regions of the world's oceans because they are captured for shark bait or for use in the traditional Chinese medicinal trade, researchers said.