This Blog is part of our “Get to Know Our Ambassadors” Series. Each week, we’ll highlight a new Ambassador to help students understand more about the diversity of people and research projects available to students.

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Manta rays may be undersea giants, but they are not scary or dangerous animals. Hungry mantas will zoom past snorkelers in the water on the hunt for food, or they’ll linger over the top of scuba divers waiting for their exhale to create a bubble-bath! These gentle giants live in tropical warm waters and feast on tiny animals the size of a grain of rice.

How can a megafauna weighing 700 kg (the same as a buffalo) eat such teeny weeny little animals? The answer is highly nutritional food, lots of it and feeding with “friends”! (Disclaimer – scientists can’t confirm or deny if mantas like their fellow manta rays, but regardless they do use cooperative behaviours to feed more efficiently together).

As a marine biologist my research is all about manta ray feeding. What is their favourite food? Why do they feed with their “friends”? Where do they go for a buffet dinner? and what environmental conditions lead to these feeding events? My research combines ecology and behavioural science with physical oceanography. To collect my data I go snorkelling, scuba diving, fly drones and use smart technology that helps me collect data under the water. Some days I feel like a mermaid-scientist!

Although I love working (and swimming!) with charismatic megafauna, I do this because our oceans need our help and I like inspiring other people to care for the sea.

Unfortunately, manta rays are a threatened species with populations around the globe decreasing because of our human-impact. Many marine animals and their homes are being impacted by climate change, habitat disappearance, and big-scale fishing. There’s a race to understand how we can protect manta rays now so populations can thrive into the future.

This is why I’m so excited to teach you more about the mysterious world of the ocean, the weird animals that call it home and some of the behaviours they use to survive through a really fun game called Reservoir Crabs. While acting as scientific “fight club” students will be able to explore the different traits that are important in determining what makes a winner.  I love that the students develop a research question, test a hypothesis, do an experiment and then interpret their own graphs. This is done by bringing 3D crabs to life to simulate a crab fight with their peers.

All animals are constantly “fighting to survive” whether it’s battles against each other, avoiding predators or competing for limited resources. I look forward to teaching your students about marine biology, manta rays, and crabs!

Written by Hannah Moloney

Hannah is a PhD researcher at the University of the Sunshine Coast and works for a global charity called the Manta Trust.

Book a virtual incursion with Hannah!