Reproductive ecology of the reef manta ray Manta alfredi in southern Mozambique
The application of a photographic identification methodology using the unique ventral surface markings (natural spot patterns) of an observed population in southern Mozambique enabled many aspects of the reproductive ecology of reef manta rays Manta alfredi to be examined. The region encompassing the study site was identified as a mating ground for M. alfredi based on observations of mating events and fresh mating scars on females. The distribution of these pectoral fin scars was highly biased and indicated a strong lateralized behavioural trait, with 99% of these scars occurring only on the left pectoral fin. No other elasmobranch has been reported to display behavioural lateralization. The study region also acts as a birthing ground, with individuals typically giving birth in the austral summer period after a gestation of c. 1 year. Reproductive periodicity in M. alfredi was most commonly biennial, but a few individuals were pregnant in consecutive years, confirming an annual ovulatory cycle. The production of a single pup appears to be the normal situation, although observations in the wild as well as during opportunistic dissections of individuals killed by fisheries revealed that two pups are conceived on occasion. Many aspects of the study have contributed to the limited baseline data currently available for this species and have highlighted the potential need for more conservative conservation strategies.