The highlight of my visits to the S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa is usually to see the manta rays. Well, who can blame them with their massive wingspans of up to 3.2meter; even the sharks in the tank looks smaller in comparison.
Most visitors judge the fish based on its mammoth appearance but really, the wondrousness of manta rays extends beyond just its look. I learnt this firsthand when I attended a hosted feeding session at the S.E.A Aquarium.
Despite their intimidating frame, manta rays are actually gentle giants that pose no threat to humans. The late Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray, not a manta ray. Unlike stingrays, manta rays do not possess a sting so you are free to let your guard down if you ever spot one on a diving trip.
The S.E.A Aquarium houses three male manta rays, namely M1, M2 and M3. They are identified by the distinct marks on the underside of their body. The image above is M3, which has an adorable heart-shaped mark on its underbelly.
I was fascinated to know that each of them has their own quirky personality, refuting my initial impressions that these fishes are boring — M1 is known to be curious and a little playful, M2 is independent and is like the bigger brother of the three, and M3 has a docile nature.
The intelligence in these manta rays was apparent when the aquarist shared with us the process of training them. These manta rays understand gesture cues, for instance, a double tap on the manta’s head is an affirmation of its actions done right.
With their astute eyesight, they can also recognise the aquarist’s polka-dotted vest as an indication that it’s time for their enrichment session. How cool is that?
We were taken behind-the-scenes to observe the water surface feeding. The feeder wielded an extended scoop containing the food and slapped the water surface to signal the commencement of the feeding.
Soon, M1 and M3 surfaced and took turns to approach the food, making circles around the aquarium before coming back for the second and third scoop. M2 was fed at the other end of the aquarium as it needed a bigger space.
As if the surface feeding wasn’t mesmerising enough, we were treated to a visual display of its underwater enrichment session, designed to allow the aquarists to do quick health checks and bond with the manta rays.
I was particularly intrigued by how M2 took its time swirling around before approaching the diver to be fed by a syringe, signifying a one-of-its-kind bond that they share.
Watching the interaction between human and manta ray was therapeutic. The prancing of the manta rays around its aquarists reminded me of a parent playing with its child, which was apt as the diver-manta chemistry took years of nurturing and conditioning. This experience thoroughly changed my perception of manta rays; the affection they exuded is something I would never forget.
The next time you visit the S.E.A Aquarium, drop your phones for a moment to observe the feeding of these manta rays and find out how intelligent they are during the Manta Moments sessions. I promise it will be a rewarding experience.
Oh, if you’re interested in helping name M1, M2 and M3, you can take part in a “Pick Your Favourite Manta Name & Win” contest happening from now until 30 April 2019. Stand a chance to win underwater hotel stays at the and go on a to get up close with the manta rays, along with other prizes worth more than S$10,000 in total.
Prices: (Adults aged 13 – 59) S$40, (Children aged 4 – 12) S$29
We're hiring Photojournalist interns