It’s been a long time since I did manta rays. My first and so far only finished manta piece “Takeoff” was done almost two and a half years ago and remains my most popular image, even though I’ve since moved away from digital pieces and have fully embraced traditional media again (it doesn’t always embrace me back, as I’ve made several manta painting attempts and given up each time). You can see a dreadful rough sketch here and a screenshot of it in progress here. I’ve been wanting to return to mantas ever since I completed “Takeoff”, but nothing ever worked for me. My recent focus on whale sharks, however, has motivated me into trying again – you have to love the giant filter feeders.
Manta rays are utterly captivating. Their appearance is just so alien; I can look closely at sharks and other fish and their anatomy makes sense to me, but mantas are somehow beyond my comprehension sometimes. They’re just so big that it’s a lot to take in when that gigantic shadow is looming above you, the bubbles from your regulator tickling their bellies as they effortlessly glide on by like a spacecraft looking for a good spot to land. When those cephalic fins unroll to form a funnel for that cavernous mouth it’s hard not to imagine them coming from another planet. Which is one of the infinite reasons the ocean is so awesome: Manta rays make perfect sense in this environment.
They are, of course, another success story that came out of this year’s CITES CoP 16 (you can read my previous posts on this in my conservation tag). The manta proposal was actually the first elasmobranch one to pass on its first try, an indicator of our fascination with them (and, sadly, the precariousness of their conservation status). Manta rays are divers’ favourites; our desire to see and experience them makes them far more valuable alive than dead. Unfortunately their gill rakers are falsely believed to hold health benefits, and the demand for their parts has caused populations to plummet (PEW identifies decreases of more than 85% in several regions). As with many marine species bycatch is also a huge problem, and when you consider that your average manta will birth only one pup every two to three years, you can understand why these incredibly unsustainable practices are removing mantas much faster than their biology can cope with. With a listing on CITES Appendix II now official, manta rays have a much greater chance of recovering.
I wanted to practice drawing them from several different angles to try to wrap my head around them just a bit better. Looking forward to translating a few onto a nice big canvas!