Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) has partnered with the Digital Life Project and ANGARI Foundation to create the world’s first accurate 3D model of a manta ray. The model will be used to better understand the movement and behaviour of the increasingly threatened manta ray species.
Florida is home to a large seasonal aggregation of adult manta rays and also serves as an important manta ray nursery. The first study on the South Florida manta ray population was published by the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s (MMF) Florida Manta Project, which has been studying manta rays in the area since 2016.
‘As the first group to study south Florida’s manta rays, we were incredibly surprised to learn that this population is composed exclusively of juvenile manta rays,’ said Jessica Pate, lead scientist for the Florida Manta Project. ‘We were also disheartened to see so many mantas entangled in fishing line and with injuries from boat propellers. Continued research, mitigation of threats, and increased public education are crucial for the conservation of Florida’s manta rays.’
In order to help bring attention to the plight of Florida’s manta rays, MMF joined forces with Digital Life Project, a leading team specialising in 3D animated modelling of living organisms, and the ANGARI Foundation, a West Palm Beach based organisation dedicated to marine science research and education through the use of innovative technology and film. The two had previously partnered to create the first-of-its-kind, accurate 3D animated model of a great hammerhead shark.
MMF’s researchers use drones, aerial surveys, in-water photography and videography to collect measurements and track individuals of the Florida manta ray population. For the 3D modelling project, the team spent a week capturing close-up photographs and video footage of mantas off the coast of Palm Beach County.
Many of the individuals spotted during the week had been sighted before, and some of the friendlier, more curious rays made data collection easy for the team, including a 2.5m (8ft) juvenile male manta ray named Skye, who has been sighted more than 20 times since he was first recorded by MMF researchers in June 2020.
Using the footage and measurement data collected for Skye, the Digital Life animators recreated the manta ray’s shape, gills, mouth, and other attributes, including adding Skye’s identifying spot-markings, textures and other details, such as scars from a boat propeller injury. The resulting model accurately depicts Skye’s swimming motion and the lifelike movement of his cephalic fins during feeding.
‘This was an amazing collaboration that has resulted in a one-of-a-kind scientific and educational tool that we hope can be shared widely,’ said Duncan Irschick, Director of Digital Life. ‘The 3D model can be used to study energetics of movement, as well as body condition and health in manta rays, and therefore helps preserve these remarkable animals.’
To date, Skye is the only accurate digital 3D model of a manta ray and an invaluable digital specimen to represent Florida’s manta ray population as well as manta rays globally.
For more information about MMF and its work, visit www.marinemegafauna.org or follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. For more on the Digital Life Project visit www.digitallife3d.org and to learn about ANGARI Foundation, head to www.angari.org.