SCUBA News 271
(ISSN 1476-8011)

SCUBA News (ISSN 1476-8011)
Issue 271 - May-June 2022

Welcome to SCUBA News. This month I interview the founder of Manta Catalog Azores, Ana Filipa Sorbral, and learn how ordinary divers can help research mantas and other mobula rays.

You can download a pdf of this newsletter here.

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Devil rays and mantas: Interview with marine scientist Ana Filipa Sobral

Read the full interview here.

Marine biologist Anna Sobral is the founder of Manta Catalog Azores, helping develop understanding of manta and devil rays. The Azores is one of the few places that these rays are known to congregate: the large Sicklefin devil rays being especially abundant. The Manta Catalog enables ordinary scuba divers to help study these mysterious creatures and ultimately contribute to their protection.

Devil rays - Mobula
Devil rays in the Azores – Princess Alice Bank. Photo credit: Tim Nicholoson

What inspired you to set up the project, and what challenges did you have to overcome?

I had just left Mozambique, where I had been participating on a whale shark and manta ray conservation project, when I came to the Azores. Once here I heard for the first time about these groups of devil rays that attracted more and more divers to the Azores. The species in question, at the time (2012), had a "Data Deficient" conservation status on the Red List of Threatened Species of the IUCN. Species are listed as "Data Deficient" when, as the name implies, there is not enough data about them and their populations to be able to estimate their conservation status. The fact that these are unique aggregations in the world, makes them crucial for the study of this species. Having divers from all over the world travelling to the Azores to see them made the creation of this citizen-science based project make perfect sense.

At the time photo-ID was already widely used to study manta rays, but this was the first attempt to use it for the study of the Sicklefin devil ray. I would say the biggest challenge was to get the project off the ground, knowing this would be a long-term project, but without knowing if it would work. Not a lot of people took it seriously at first and it took time for the project to get some visibility and for the first results to appear. However, the process has been very rewarding, and this work is now being replicated in other places which makes it all the more exciting.

Sicklefin Devil Rays

What has the project achieved so far?

Through this project, depending solely on data provided by citizen scientists, we were able to confirm, for the first time, the existence of 3 species of Mobulid rays in the Azores: the Oceanic manta ray (Mobula birostris), the Sicklefin devil ray (Mobula tarapacana) and the Spinetail devil ray (Mobula mobular). With a photographic database with around 300 different individuals of two species, we now know that photo-ID is a viable tool to study the Sicklefin devil ray and we do know that individuals return to the Azores in different years, with re-sights after up to 9 years, reinforcing the importance of these sites for these species.

Sicklefin devil rays by Tim Nicholson
Sicklefin devil rays in the Azores. Photo credit: Tim Nicholson.

Another great achievement has been to contribute to the knowledge about these species amongst the local community and the raise in awareness about the importance of the conservation of these animals.

What has most surprised you in your research into the rays?

I was surprised by them returning, sometimes after almost a decade, to the exact same place, but the most surprising and exciting thing in studying them has been that the more time I spend with them underwater and the more knowledgeable we get, the more questions I have, and the more I want to learn about them.

A diver with the rays
Diver photographing underside of Sicklefin devil ray. Photo credit: Ana Filipa-Sobral

Can any diver contribute to your citizen science initiative, or do participants have to be on one of your trips?

Any diver can contribute to the project by reporting a sighting of a Mobulid ray in the Azores through the form on our website ( We look for pictures of the unique patterns on the bellies of the rays so we can ID different individuals.

During the Manta Conservation Experience trips (which take place in August) divers will have a more hands-on experience on a week fully dedicated to learning more about these animals and taking part on the research work being done. For more information watch the video below or contact

If you could dive with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?

I would love to be in the water with Dr. Sylvia Earle, she has always been a huge inspiration and always has a message full of hope for the future.

Read the Full Interview

You can read the full interview, and find out how you can contribute, on our news website.

The project has been supported by Conservation at Oceanario de Lisboa, three times voted best aquarium in the world. Read our interview with Nuria Baylina, head of Biology and Conservation at Oceanario de Lisboa

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SCUBA News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License. This means we are happy for you to reuse our material for both commercial and non-commercial use as long as you: credit the name of the author, link back to the SCUBA Travel website and say if you have made any changes. Some of the photos though, might be copyright the photographer. If in doubt please get in touch.

Photo credits: Tim Nicholson, Jill Studholme, Kristin Riser, Jianye Sui

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