Visitors to Eilat were in for a rare surprise Saturday morning when a giant manta ray was spotted in the water.
The sighting was confirmed by Nature and Parks Authority investigator Omri Omsi.
"I had the privilege of witnessing a huge manta ray on the northern coast of Eilat," Omsi said in a statement.
Manta Ray sightings in Eilat are very rare, though this was the second time Omsi had encountered one. However, he noted that this manta was smaller in size – an estimated 2.5 meters (around 8 feet).
For context, in September 2020, a female manta ray spotted near Eilat measured around 3 meters (around 10 feet), and according to Adi Barash, a University of Haifa doctoral student and chairman of the NGO Sharks in Israel, they normally grow to around 4.5 meters (around 15 feet). However, some individuals have been recorded around 9 meters (around 30 feet).
Mantas are the largest of rays, a close relative of sharks that includes other well-known species such as sting rays. Despite their large size and relation to sharks, manta rays are completely harmless to humans, with their diet consisting largely of plankton.
As a result of their harmless nature and large size, manta ray tourism is known to be quite profitable. Many sites around the world known to attract manta rays have turned into tourism hotspots.
Despite this, fishing manta rays is still a present threat to their population, which has led to them be recognized as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
But sightings of manta rays are very rare in Israel since they are not usually found in the Red Sea and only rarely venture as far north as Eilat. According to Barash in 2020, Sharks in Israel have only ever recorded around 15 sightings.Anyone who has seen and taken pictures of a manta ray or shark may report the sighting to the Nature and Parks Authority at *3639 or to Sharks in Israel and aid in research and conservation efforts.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.