A Ray of Hope for Mantas: Marine biologist makes case for protecting ‘devilfish’ – La Jolla Light

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A Ray of Hope for Mantas: Marine biologist makes case for protecting ‘devilfish’

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a four-part series on exhibits, public programs, lectures and scientific research in connection with “Shark Summer” at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps. The spotlight this time is on research and conservation efforts of manta rays, cousins of the shark.

By Lynne Friedmann

On his first day of college, Josh Stewart made a momentous decision. “I dropped a scheduled course and enrolled in a scuba diving class instead,” he said.

Josh Stewart is a Scripps Oceanography Ph.D. student and associate director of The Manta Trust. courtesy


Stewart was an undergraduate at Indiana University, a land-locked school without a marine biology program.

But what Indiana University does have is one of the oldest academic diving programs in the country where Stewart found unparalleled opportunities for hands-on science experience accompanying underwater archaeologists studying shipwrecks in international waters. During a research excursion to the Dominican Republic, Stewart first glimpsed a giant manta ray — a disc-shaped fish more than 20 feet wide — gliding toward him like a slow-motion, underwater bat. This and subsequent encounters with the majestic creatures set the course for Stewart’s graduate studies.

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