New feeding style takes minders closer to manta rays

A manta ray at the S.E.A. Aquarium yesterday being fed underwater using a syringe. This new method, instead of surface-feeding, allows staff to get closer to the animals to conduct physical examinations, such as checking for bruises, external parasit
A manta ray at the S.E.A. Aquarium yesterday being fed underwater using a syringe. This new method, instead of surface-feeding, allows staff to get closer to the animals to conduct physical examinations, such as checking for bruises, external parasites and clarity of vision.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The S.E.A. Aquarium is using a new feeding method for its three manta rays in an effort to understand the species better.

Apart from surface feeding, in which food is placed into a ladle attached to a long stick and fed to the mantas at the water's surface, aquarists will enter the aquarium to feed them underwater using a syringe placed into their mouths.

The aquarium showcased the method to the media yesterday. It added that the new method will allow staff to conduct physical examinations, such as checking for bruises, external parasites and clarity of vision, on the manta rays in close proximity.

The aquarium has been feeding the mantas krill, small shrimp-like crustaceans, this way since last year.

The surface-feeding method allows aquarists to carry out only photographic checks on the mantas or check them from a distance.

Mr James Hong, assistant curator at the S.E.A. Aquarium, said the new way of feeding will help staff develop closer bonds with the mantas.

"Sometimes, if they behave differently, we record it down and see if there's anything going on," he added.

 
 

The S.E.A. Aquarium will share its findings with other aquariums and zoos around the world.

Mr Hong said: "The ultimate aim is really to increase awareness about manta rays and the end goal is to help the manta ray population."

Manta rays are listed as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. This is due to their low reproduction rate and over-harvesting of their gill plates for medicinal purposes.

As part of its efforts to raise public awareness, the S.E.A. Aquarium is holding a contest in which participants can pick their favourite name out of six options for the three manta rays. A short write-up on the chosen name must also be submitted.

The top three entries will each win a stay at the Resorts World Sentosa Ocean Suite and Sea Trek Adventure, along with prizes worth more than $10,000 in total. The contest ends on April 30.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2019, with the headline 'New feeding style takes minders closer to manta rays'. Print Edition | Subscribe