If you’ve ever wondered where Manta Rays are raised, scientists recently found the first known nursery for them in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas.

Marine biology doctoral candidate Joshua Stewart, along with folks from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found a bunch of baby Mantas in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Stewart had been researching the manta ray population in the area and in 2016 saw a juvenile Manta, something not regularly seen.

After analyzing 25 years’ worth of dive logs and photos taken by sanctuary staff, Stewart and his colleagues determined that the average wingspan of the Mantas in the sanctuary was 7.38 feet/2.25 meters, well below the adult Manta’s wingspan of 20-plus feet (6 meters).

Stewart said:

“This discovery is a major advancement in our understanding of the species and the importance of different habitats throughout their lives. The juvenile life stage for oceanic mantas has been a bit of a black box for us, since we’re so rarely able to observe them. Identifying this area as a nursery highlights its importance for conservation and management, but it also gives us the opportunity to focus on the juveniles and learn about them.”

Check out Stewart’s and his colleagues’ findings in the Marine Biology journal.

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