Whoever said fish can’t fly haven’t seen mobula rays in action.
These marine animals, which are often referred to as devil rays, can soar through the air for up to a few seconds at a time before belly-flopping back to their watery home.
Why they do it, however, is a complete mystery. Scientists propose that it could be a mating ritual, a way to feed, or just a fun activity, but no one is certain, yet.
Octavio Aburto, an assistant professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, came upon a giant swarm of thousands of these flying devil fish near the gulf of California in 2011. Most of the mind-blowing photos you’ll see here were taken during that encounter by Aburto with the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Mobula rays are closely related to their larger cousins, the manta ray. Some species of mobula can measure as much as 17 feet long and weigh over a ton.
Octavio told Business Insider that the massive swarm of devil rays he saw in 2011 arrived in a region near the Gulf of California in January and stayed through May.
Tens to hundreds of rays will leap out of the water at a time. Researchers have noticed that usually the jumpers are located along the outskirts of the swarm, which could be the key to understanding why they jump.
This belly flop generates a loud boom that some suspect could scare potential prey, like shrimp, closer toward the swarm, making an easy meal for the rays under the surface.
Sometimes they get a little out of control, like this ray that does a somersault in mid-air, landing on its back instead of its belly:
Many mobula species like to travel in large packs, which makes them especially vulnerable to fishing. And, in fact, many species of mobula rays are endangered.
In February 2013, fisherman from Gaza City in Palestine caught over 200 devil rays in just two days. Some of them are shown here in a picture taken by Ahmed Zakot:
The region where Octavio took these amazing photos has been protected from fishing for about two decades. He and other researchers have been visiting this region for years to study how the ecosystem has recovered.
Although scientists don't know why these gigantic fish jump, they have at least measured how high: some of the most spectacular jumps can reach over 6.5 feet above the surface.
And it's not just their jumping abilities that are extraordinary: In a recent study, a team of researchers discovered that a certain species of these devil rays, Mobula tarapacana, is among the deepest-diving ocean animals in the world, reaching depths over 6500 feet below the surface -- well over a mile deep!
Despite returning to the same spot each year, Octavio has not seen a swarm of mobula rays anything like the one he encountered in 2011. He thinks that the temperatures have been too warm for the rays' return.
Octavio hopes to one day see these majestic fish near the California coast again. And next time, he says that he plans to record the sounds these devil rays make when they hit the water in hopes of discovering the secret behind their mysterious jumping behaviour.
Now that you know fish can fly, check out some of the other surprising abilities of different animals in the animal kingdom:
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