An unsuspecting photographer had the chance of a lifetime when a rare pink manta ray made itself known on a recent dive.
When he first noticed the underbelly of one of the manta rays was pink, he thought his camera was playing tricks on him.
“I had never even heard of a pink manta and when I first saw it, I thought my camera was playing up,” he told ScienceAlert.
“Only later that night I saw a photo of a pink manta on the restaurant’s notice board and thought it was a joke until I rushed to check the belly patterns in my camera.”
Not only is the manta ray he captured rare, it’s the only known one of its kind in the world.
“Overall it was very calm and just let me be there,” he continued to the science publication. “Later when I realized what I had witnessed I was stoked. I just couldn’t believe how rare a moment I had experienced.”
The 3.3-metre marine animal, named Inspector Clouseau, has only been seen a handful of times since it was first captured on camera by diver Ryan Jeffery in 2015.
“There was other mantas that came in and you could really see the distinct difference of colouration underneath,” Jeffrey told ABC in 2015. “I’ve been diving out there for five years, few thousand dives here and never come across that on any of our manta rays before, so it was really something different for me.”
Jeffrey added that he’d continued going back to the same spot over the next few days after his discovery and never saw Clouseau again.
Project Manta has been researching the cause of the flamboyant underbelly ever since, ruling out things like stress and skin infection with multiple tests and biopsies.
“There has not been a thorough investigation into diet or stable isotope analysis, but given the stability of the white ‘birthmark’ … and pink colour over time, we think diet can be ruled out,” Asia Armstrong of Project Manta said in a statement to Manta Trust.
“The working theory is that it is just a different and very unique expression of the melanin, but that is still to be confirmed.”