Manta Mystery: Education Worksheet

Video highlights from Manta Mystery

Junior and Senior Secondary

Manta Mystery Education Worksheet

Junior Secondary and Senior Secondary

Inhabiting the world’s tropical waters, manta rays have a wingspan of up to 7 metres and can weigh as much as 1.8 tonnes. Breathtaking to encounter, these animals are elusive, and very little is known about them. Australian biologist, Dr Kathy Townsend, and her Project Manta team aim to change all that. Join them at their research centres on Australia’s east coast, and as they travel to the world’s manta hotspots to team up with other scientists to learn more about this endangered animal. Witness astonishing, rarely filmed behaviour, such as mating trains triggered by the full moon, manta ballet sequences, and incredible feeding frenzies that happen once a year. But can Project Manta win the race to save these ‘Near Threatened’ animals from South East Asian commercial fisheries?

Classified worldwide as ‘Near Threatened’, manta rays remain unprotected in Australia and most other countries. This is because basic information about an animal’s life is required if it’s to be protected. After three years of drumming up finance and support, Dr Kathy Townsend and her multi-disciplinary Project Manta team undertake the first Australian manta ray census. The team includes biologists, ecologists, behaviourists and oceanographic specialists. Together they want to find out why and where manta rays travel.

The first step is to recognise and record individuals. Fortunately, manta rays have distinct black markings on their white underbellies, each as unique as human fingerprints.  The team also uses acoustic equipment to record manta rays’ movements.

Rays evolved from sharks – some of the planet’s most ancient animals – some 400 million years ago. Manta rays are more recent, probably evolving from stingrays, but without the stinging barb. Biologists first described manta rays only 200 years ago. We now know there are two distinct species – reef and oceanic.

It’s not just the mantas’ size that impresses. They are also charismatic, graceful and extraordinarily intelligent. Oceanic mantas can cover 2000km in a week, and dive to 500 metres, thanks to a special brain heater. Feeding on zooplankton, the earth’s most abundant creatures and all-important base of the ocean’s food web, manta rays’ movements help reveal the oceans’ zooplankton hot spots.

Travel with Project Manta to the Maldives, the only known place where huge numbers of mantas aggregate to feed, and to Yap, a tiny island in Micronesia, to see incredible mating sequences. Discover how the Project Manta team applies the knowledge gained from their travels to Australia’s east coast manta ray population.


Junior Secondary Curriculum
Science is a dynamic, collaborative and creative human endeavour arising from our curiosity and interest in making sense of our world through exploring the unknown, investigating universal mysteries, making predictions and solving problems.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Rationale

Senior Secondary Curriculum
Biology encompasses many specialisations and interdisciplinary fields to explore how life exists, evolves and survives. It spans many organisational levels, from the functioning of whole organisms and their interrelationships, to the nature of cells and macromolecular systems. … By studying the senior secondary Biology curriculum, students appreciate both the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in biology, and the study of biology as an independent and collaborative human endeavour.
Australian Biology Curriculum 2010: Rationale


Junior Secondary
In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will:

•    Develop an interest in science and a curiosity and willingness to explore, ask questions and speculate about the changing world in which they live
•    Develop an understanding of historical and cultural aspects of science as well as contemporary science issues and activities and an understanding of the diversity of careers related to science
•    Develop an ability to communicate their scientific understandings and findings to a range of audiences, to justify their own ideas on the basis of evidence, and to evaluate and debate scientific arguments and claims whilst respecting alternative viewpoints and beliefs.
Australian Science K-10 Curriculum 2010: Aims

Senior Secondary
In undertaking these tasks, students of Science will:

•    Engage in communication of and about biology, value evidence and scepticism, and evaluate critically the scientific claims made by others
•    Appreciate biology as both an independent and a collaborative human endeavour
•    Develop in-depth knowledge, understanding, skills and scientific values relating to biology
•    Appreciate the changing and expanding body of contemporary knowledge in biology.
Australian Biology Curriculum 2010: Aims


Junior Secondary

Task 1
Compile a fact file about manta rays by researching answers to the following questions:
•    In which type of waters do manta rays live?
•    What is the maximum wingspan of a manta ray?
•    What is the maximum weight of a manta ray?
•    What do manta rays eat?
•    How far can a manta ray swim in a week?
•    What is the deepest recorded dive for a manta ray?
•    Approximately how long do manta rays live?
•    How do manta rays reproduce?
•    How are manta rays related to sharks?
•    Name three places in the world where manta rays are known to live.

Task 2
Write a paragraph of about 50 words to explain why Dr Kathy Townsend and the Project Manta team are researching manta rays.

Task 3
Which countries did Kathy travel to in order to learn more about manta rays?
Choose two of these countries and write 50 words about each to describe what she learned there.

Task 4
Write 75 words to explain why Yap, a tiny island in Micronesia, is the most progressive country in the world for manta rays.

Task 5
Sadly, manta rays are classified as Near Threatened. Write a definition to explain what this means, add a paragraph of 50 words to state why you think the animals have been classified this way, and another paragraph of 50 words to describe what could be done to help save manta rays.

Senior Secondary

Task 1
Do some research to help compile a fact file about manta rays:
•    Number and names of species
•    Latin names of species
•    Physical characteristics
•    Global distribution
•    Habitat
•    Diet
•    Conservation status

Task 2
Write approximately 100 words to describe what is known about the life cycle of a manta ray. Add a paragraph to include the maximum size, weight and life span of mantas, and at least two behavioural observations of mantas in the wild.

Task 3
Name three different scientific disciplines included amongst the members of Project Manta and write 50 words for each to explain how they contribute to the data compilation.

Task 4
Write a 200-word report about Dr Kathy Townsend’s fact-finding mission to Hanifaru in the Maldives, and Yap, Micronesia. In your report, describe exactly where she went, why she went there, who she met, what she found out and how she can apply her findings to her own research in Australia.

Task 5
Although manta rays were first described 200 years ago, we still know very little about them and yet they are classified as Near Threatened. Write a letter to Australia’s Minister for the Environment outlining the dangers posed to manta rays and how you think Australia’s manta ray population should be managed.

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