Some divers have been lucky enough to see it in person, while some have seen the phenomenon only on nature programs. But why do mobula rays jump in the first place? These graceful animals are known to energetically jump from the ocean, from the Costa Rica coast to Baja California. While there are multiple hypotheses for their behavior, researchers have yet to prove any conclusively. Below we’ll outline a few of the most recent theories for why mobula rays jump.
Mobulas usually jump when in large groups. Scientists think, just as with many other animal species, that doing so is an attempt to impress each other. Although both the males and females jump, males leap more commonly, theoretically attempting to court the females. Mobulas must generate a great deal of speed to leap from the water, many starting from great depths.
Three species of mobulas are capable of leaping from the water; two actually flip while doing so, making a quieter landing. The third species, which does not flip, flops loudly.
Just as whales breach to detach parasites from their bodies, scientists believe mobulas are doing the same thing to remove parasites, such as remoras and other, smaller opportunistic feeders. While some of these parasites are harmful to the ray while others are not, removing all of them at once is a compelling reason for leaping from the water.
With powerful wings, mobulas can easily jump from the water, so why not jump for fun? Although this is of course the least-scientific theory, it is perhaps the most enjoyable discussion. This is an intelligent species — could mobulas literally be jumping for joy?
When mobulas leap from the water not only does their landing send a vibration wave through the ocean, but the splash also creates a bang that individuals can use for communication. Scientists think that some members of the aggregation jump to identify the group to other individuals further away, creating a higher likelihood of mating. Other researchers have noticed that before a feeding frenzy, certain members of the group will jump to communicate that feeding is about to commence.
There are multiple reasons that mobulas jump, and while we may never be able to prove without doubt the specific reasons for each occurrence, mobulas are nonetheless one of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures.