SINGAPORE - The S.E.A. Aquarium is using a new feeding method for its three manta rays in an effort to improve understanding of the species.
As well as surface feeding - where food is placed in a ladle attached to a long stick and fed to the mantas at the water's surface - aquarists will also enter the aquarium to feed them underwater using a syringe placed into their mouths.
The aquarium showcased the method to the media on Thursday (March 14), saying it will allow staff to conduct physical examinations of the manta rays, such as checking for bruises, external parasites and clarity of vision.
It has been feeding the mantas krill - small shrimp-like crustaceans - in 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 also help staff develop a closer bond with the mantas.
"It also tells us about their behaviour... sometimes if they behave differently, we'll record it down and see if there's anything going on," he said.
The S.E.A. Aquarium will share its findings with other aquariums and zoos around the world.
Mr Hong added: "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's 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 where participants 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 win stays at the Ocean Suite and Sea Trek Adventure, along with prizes worth more than $10,000 in total. The contest ends on April 30.