10 Facts about Rays in Hawaii

One of the most exciting fish to see while snorkeling in Hawaii is a ray. A distant cousin of the shark, rays can often be seen in Maui’s waters fairly close to shore. Highly photogenic, seeing rays is always the highlight of any snorkeling adventure. Here are 10 facts about these lovely fish.

  1. Hawaii is home to three types of rays: manta, stingray and spotted eagle. The manta ray is the most common, especially near shore.
  2. The manta rays you’ll see near Maui’s shores average 5-to-8 feet, but can reach over 14 feet.
  3. Rays have been around in their modern form for at least 20 – 25 million years. Manta rays, however, have only been around for about 4.8 million years.
  4. Because manta rays can be identified individually by researchers because of the distinctive spots on their bellies.
  5. Manta rays have the largest brains amongst the 32,000 species of fish.
  6. The “stinger” on a manta ray does not work. So no fear of being injured (from the tail, anyway) of a manta ray. However, should you come across the aptly named stingray, watch out. Their tales are still very much venomous.
  7. The easiest way to distinguish a manta ray from a stingray is by color. Manta rays are black, while stingrays are brown. Stingrays also sport shorter tails.
  8. If you’re one of the lucky ones who sees a ray breach (leap from the water), the ray you’re most likely seeing is a spotted eagle ray. They are known for the colorful (white, yellow and green) dots on their backs, which contrast nicely against their black skin.
  9. Rays are distant cousins of sharks. Like sharks, instead of bones, their vertebra is made of cartilage. They also must constantly swim in a forward motion to pass oxygenated water through their gills. They cannot swim backwards.
  10. As of 2009, manta rays in Hawaii’s waters are protected against killing and capturing. Offenders will receive criminal penalties and fines of up to $10,000.

Please tell us about any rays you have come across in Hawaii in the comments below. Thanks!

One Comments

  • Marianna 01 / 08 / 2018

    Saw a either two spotted eagle rays or a sting rays on the Big Island, swimming in the water, at beach 69. Was not snorkeling; could see them from the beach. Came in as close as 6 feet from the shore.

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