Swooping gracefully through the water like giant bats, these huge manta rays gather to feed on microscopic plankton. These amazing pictures were taken by British photographer Warren Baverstock, who spent nine days on the Maldives to capture these beautiful creatures. Up to 200 mantas gather in Hanifaru Bay, which is just the size of a football pitch, to feed and be cleaned of parasites by smaller fish.
Baverstock, 42, from Plymouth, England, said, ''I slowly approached a three metre wide manta. I floated mesmerized by its graceful swimming pattern. Snapping out of my daze, I began to photograph the manta as it circled just under the surface whilst deeper down more mantas fed.'' Baverstock, who works in the public aquarium industry and is based in the Middle East, added: ''Another manta ray glided alongside the small reef to be cleaned. Moments later two more arrived and as the density of plankton increased, so did the manta activity. Waiting patiently I peered down at the cleaning station, wondering what would happen next. I did not have to wait long and before I knew it, several mantas suddenly started to circle towards the surface, feeding on the soup of plankton all around me. The experience was incredible and as the the group synchronized so that they could all feed together, I watched with amazement as 25 large manta rays circled and barrel-rolled with mouths wide open less than a metre away from my camera. I had never felt so overwhelmed about such an amazing animal encounter."
Manta rays are the world's largest ray and have the biggest brain to body weight ratio of their cousins the skates and sharks. They feed on plankton and fish larvae either on the ocean floor or in open water. They filter their food from the water passing through their gills as they swim. Mantas frequently visit cleaning stations where small fish such as wrasse, remora, and angelfish swim in their gills.