This July our divers and instructor Rod encountered Ariel, a four metre Giant manta ray, at our beautiful local dive site Ras Umm Sid. But this was not a one-time lucky sighting: our instructors Cath and Beth had already spotted Ariel at the same dive site in May 2012. But how can we be sure? Fortunately we had photos of both sightings, and by matching them our Eco Tribe leader Cath was able to positively identify Ariel. Cath said "Each manta ray has their own individual markings on their belly that act like a fingerprint. If we get a photograph we can look through our archive to check if we have had a previous encounter." Because manually matching manta photos would be very time-consuming, Cambridge Professor Christopher Town has teamed up with Marine Megafauna Foundation to develop a computer algorithm which identifies manta rays by their markings. The algorithm has been integrated into first global online database for manta rays, Manta Matcher. This groundbreaking system “will allow researchers to track sightings data to establish important life-history parameters as well as determine other ecological data such as abundance, range, movement patterns, and structure of manta ray populations across the world.” Camel’s friend and eco partner Andrea Marshall of Marine Megafauna was so excited about our photo match of Ariel that she described it at the National Geographic Explorer Week in Washington DC. We love citizen science!
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