Manta Rays in Culture

Manta Rays in Popular Culture

For many native people manta rays have cultural significance of great importance, especially for those who are in contact with the sea. Over time symbolism has been allocated to them and their figure probably was very important to the ancient societies.

The word “manta”, conferred only to these fish, seems to come from the Spanish or Portuguese term referred to the blanket-like trap or shawl with which rays are caught.

The Mochicas of ancient Peru, settled along the coast, represented manta rays in their art and manta rays figures are present in various ceramic objects. Meanwhile, the Australian Aborigines were accustomed to watching several species of cartilaginous fish and used to catch them for consumption or for the manufacture of various materials.

Traditional Chinese medicine, so rich in remedies made from parts of wild animals, demands for gill rakers that supposedly improve blood circulation, reduce toxins and cure cancer, chickenpox and infertility, among others. When catching manta rays, Indonesian fishermen usually sing an old song since they believe that this will prevent the animals from escaping.

Long ago, manta rays were generally viewed as dangerous sea creatures that could attack. Certainly their large size favored this opinion, and various beliefs that were part of the culture arisen. For example, some sailors of past centuries thought that these animals fed on other fish and that their strength was such that they were able to sink ships.

There is no reason to say that manta rays are dangerous animals. This is what was discovered in the second half of the twentieth century by the divers when they saw that they were not getting attacked. However, some people still believe that the manta rays can attack and “bite” with a stinger, which is wrong.

Manta rays in popular culture

The popularity of manta rays in film, television, literature, music and other media is not as marked as that of other animals, and they’re often confused with their cousins, rays of the Mobula genus and other elasmobranches of similar morphology.

Yet their representation has appeared in films and television series. Perhaps less well known Hollywood movies such as The Sea Bat (1930) and Devil Monster (1936) portray these fish as frightening and hostile animals towards humans. In The Sea Bat, residents of a fishing village are victims of a manta ray, and in Devil monster rescuers of a young castaway also become victims.

Cartoons whose characters are sea creatures tend to include species of rays, as the recent children’s series The Octonauts based on books. The main characters are animals that live endless adventures; normally in each chapter they highlight a marine species. Manta rays make their appearance in Chapter 13 of series 2.

At other times are represented as hybrid or anthropomorphized beings, i.e., with human characteristics. This is the case of the character from the animated series The Little Mermaid called Evil manta and the Chief ray from the sea tigers, both hybrids of manta ray and human.

The name of these elasmobranchs is more common to designate sports teams (baseball, soccer, etc.), music and other groups. Pixies, a band of alternative rock, has two songs titled Manta ray and Dancing the manta ray. Did you know them?


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