National Geographic : 2012 Aug
RAYS IN DANGER | In the ocean, manta and mobula rays move with exceptional grace, gliding and twirling with mouths agape to feed near the surface. Now an appetite for their gill rakers---filaments that filter out plankton, krill, and other food---has put their populations at risk, says a new study. Demand in China for dried gill rakers as pur- ported medicine for chicken pox and other ailments means a large manta can fetch several hundred dollars, versus $20 to $40 for its meat alone. Last year around 100,000 of the rays landed in global fish markets, the study estimates, boding ill for nearly a dozen mobulid species---many listed by the IUCN as vulnerable or near threatened. "As quickly as rays started appearing in markets, we fear they could disappear from the sea just as quickly," says Shawn Heinrichs, lead author of the report released by conservation groups WildAid and Shark Savers. Mobulid catches rose sharply about a decade ago. Despite increased fishing efforts, fewer and smaller rays are being caught, indicating populations in peril, says Heinrichs. On the flip side, the sublime creatures have proved a lucrative tourist draw---a ray of hope for the slow-to-reproduce sea dwellers. ---Luna Shyr PHOTO: THOMAS P. PESCHAK Manta and mobula ray numbers are falling as they're hunted for Asian remedies.