Dive Instructors Free Manta Ray From Deeply Embedded Fishing Line Entanglement

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Dive instructors from the island of Nusa Penida in Indonesia have been filmed rescuing a manta ray which was slowly having one of its wings cut away by the fishing line in which it had become entangled.

Jason Fondis, manager of Blue Corner Penida and course director Hélène Reynaud, co-owner of Purple Dive Penida (and one of DIVE's Featured Photographers) were diving at Manta Point, a popular dive site off the southern coast of Nusa Penida and a cleaning station for the resident population of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi).

There were at least 11 mantas over the cleaning station when, early in the dive, Jason saw one of the other divers in the team following a manta with a dive knife in his hand. Noticing a piece of fishing line trailing from the manta, he went to assist. Unfortunately, whether it was due to the poor visibility that day or the position of the divers in the manta's field of vision, when they approached the animal to help it became spooked and swam away.

Towards the end of the dive, the manta returned, and this time the divers were able to help.

'I turned around and Hélène was following this manta with Effi from Pure Dive,' said Fondis. 'I don't know if it was because the field of vision was better or if the manta had worked it out, but she was slowed down to the point we could swim right over the top of her, and she knew that we were prepared to help,' he said, adding, 'I don't need to be a scientist to know they are smart and self-aware; when you've spent this many dives with manta rays, you just know they are.'

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The white scarring on the manta's dorsal surface is clearly visible as Jason and Hélène work at removing line that has been embedded right through the manta's body.

Jason cut the piece of fishing line streaming from her tail but as he did so, he looked closer and realise that the entire right-hand side of the manta's body, from the head down to its pelvic fin across its wing, had been wrapped three or four times in fishing line. There was a hook embedded on the manta's dorsal side close to its head, another in her ventral side close to her gills.

'The fishing line had obviously wrapped around her and then it had been so tight that it had cut into her body,' said Fondis. 'You could see down the body there were these white scars where the line had bitten in. And it had cut all the way up,' he added, 'a good 30cm up her body, to the point where the wing and her body and her back were healing around it. It was like cheese wire cutting through cheese.'

Working together, Jason and Hélène managed to unravel and cut the line from the manta's body, however, the line was embedded so deeply in the manta's body that removing it completely was not easy. 

'There was one little piece still stuck in her body,' said Fondis. 'I tried to pull it out but I couldn't, I realised that there was loads more underneath her so I cut that as well – and it was like taking stitches out. Her body had healed around the line.'

In total, it took the two instructors almost 10 minutes to free the manta of its entanglement, during which time the animal itself seemed to acknowledge their presence. 'She knew that were there to help because she slowed right down and didn't mind the occasional touch and us being in her personal space,' said Fondis. 'It was a really profound and beautiful moment, but super sad because we had to do that. It would have been much better to have witnessed her without any damage to her body.'

Check out the fantastic video of Jason and Hélène freeing the entangled manta



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