Which mobulid is which?

  • Rays & Skates
Years funded
  • 2013, 2014, 2015
  • Archived
Project type
  • Education

Vulnerable mobulids include two manta and nine mobula species. Because they all look alike, it is difficult to identify different species. Daniel is compiling the world’s first mobulid ID guidebook and genetic identification kit.

Which mobulid is which?

Daniel Fernando

Project leader
About the project leader

Iam the co-founder of the Blue Resources Trust and the principal scientist of the Sri Lanka Elasmobranch Project. Since 2013 I have also been providing technical support for elasmobranch management policy at conventions such as CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and CMS (the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species), helping to bridge the gap between science and policy and encouraging a shift toward sustainable fisheries. I served as an adviser to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Wildlife from 2015 to 2018 and currently am a member of the IUCN SSG Shark Specialist Group...

Related Blogs
By Daniel Fernando, 5th May 2015
A Busy 2015!
It was a busy start to the year taking part on a research expedition to the Chagos MPA in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), currently the second largest enforced no-take marine reserve in the world and home to a local population of reef manta…
By Daniel Fernando, 26th November 2014
CMS, a Fishy Peruvian Market and a Day Swimming with Giants!
Just over two weeks ago at an altitude of 2,800m in Quito, Ecuador, surrounded by #SharkNRay conservationists, I found myself celebrating the incredible success of two proposals submitted by the Government of Fiji to list Manta alfredi and all Mobula spp. under Appendix I &…
By Daniel Fernando, 20th June 2014
Dummies Guide to Creating a Mobulid Guide!
Creating a global mobulid identification guide should be easy considering that there are only 11 recognised species, right?! Well, it’s actually much harder than many of you might think because we know so little about these species. Challenges range from poorly described species that only…
By Daniel Fernando, 28th May 2014
Searching for Fish in the Sahara!
Last month Daniel Fernando and Isabel Ender carried out a research trip to Western Africa to learn more about its mobulid fishery. After being diverted from southern West Africa (read previous blog), they headed further north along the coast to Western Sahara and Morocco. Here…
By Daniel Fernando, 18th May 2014
Sun-Dried Rays?
Last month, Daniel Fernando and Isabel Ender carried out a research trip to Western Africa to learn more about its mobulid fishery. Here Isabel explains what she discovered: I will never forget the moment I spotted it, right there in front of me. It left…
By Daniel Fernando, 24th September 2013
Is it a manta ray – or a devil ray?
One of the fundamental issues encountered by marine biologists and fisheries researchers around the world is the inability to clearly identify mobulid species, which is due to the extreme similarities between the 11 extant species. In fact, to the untrained eye, even a manta ray…
By Daniel Fernando, 17th September 2013
To Kill for a Gill!
3 AM. Pitch black outside. A quick dip under the cold shower to wake up and I head off. Just an hour’s drive north of the capital is the small fishing village of Negombo, one of the largest landing sites and whole-sale fish markets in…
By Daniel Fernando, 15th September 2013
Conferences and Guest Lectures in the US!
Along with the field research being conducted in various countries around the world to collect all the biological, ecological and genetic information required to create a global comprehensive guide, I am quite often busy travelling to raise awareness through talks and seminars at international scientific…
Project details

Global mobula ray taxonomical, morphological and genetic identification guide

Key objective

The development of a comprehensive global taxonomical, morphological and genetic identification guide for all mobulid ray species which would be made accessible to both scientists and non-specialists.

Why is this important

Species identification of mobulid rays has proven to be very problematic due to their similar external features resulting in misidentification even in current scientific literature, highlighting the necessity for a set of clear identification tools to help current and future researchers fill in the large knowledge gaps. This lack of available data for mobulid rays is currently severely impeding the conservation process.


There is very limited scientific information available on the biology and ecology of mobulid species, and with the rapid increase in fishing pressure due to the global trade for dried mobulid branchial filter plates, it is imperative that more knowledge is gained. The mobulid fisheries are considered unsustainable due to the animals’ slow growth rates, low fecundity and late maturity, thereby constraining their ability to recover from a depleted state. All Mobula rays are currently listed on the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered or Data Deficient. This project was conceived when several issues arose regarding the identification of mobulid species around the world, and consequently, the possibility that certain species from different geographical regions were in fact the same species. This has resulted in most mobulid species receiving inadequate protection even when considered to be vulnerable due to fishing pressure. International conventions such as CITES have not accepted submissions for a Mobula listing due to the considerable difficulty in identifying the species, which invariably would lead to difficulties in monitoring and controlling any international trade.

Aims & objectives

The lack of extensive scientific data to support conservation or management proposals for Mobula rays is often due to misidentification of species and this project aims to address the very roots of this issue. With the creation of an international pocket guide book that would be readily available along with the means of species confirmation via a simple genetic identification kit using tissue samples, researchers will be provided with the instruments required to carry out further in-depth studies, which are critical to provide the data required for the protection of these species through instruments such as CITES. This project will be carried out on a global level and will aim to replace and update various regional guides with one guide that is both comprehensive and not constrained to any particular geographical region. This guide and genetic kit would be targeted at researchers, enforcers and the general public, and would help track and control the trade of these vulnerable species and help provide the information required for the management of these species, thereby improving their chances of survival.