Cryptid Profile: Beebe’s White-Banded Manta
On April 27th, 1923, American naturalist William Beebe was aboard his yacht, the Norma, near Tower Island in the Galapagos Islands when he collided with something unusual. As Beebe ran to the side of his vessel to get a look at what the Norma had hit, his eyes caught sight of large manta ray swimming off, away from the boat and back out to see. Beebe quickly noted the appearance and characteristics of the mystery manta as it swam away and would later speak about the encounter in his 1924 book, “Galapagos, World’s End”.
In his book, Beebe described the creature as having a wingspan of over 10ft, and a skin color that appeared dark brown and was also faintly mottled. Its body took on almost a diamond like shape, and it possessed a shorter tail than most other known manta rays. The cephalic horns appeared to hang straight, rather than curve inward like other ray specimens. The most defining characteristic though were the pair of “brilliantly pure white” v-shaped bands that extended down the back from each side of the head. The wingtips also faded into pure white points. This mystery manta was unlike any known specimen currently recognized by science at the time.
Almost 66 years later in 1989, a German television show called, “Sharks: Hunters of the Seas” caught on camera a large manta ray with white v-shaped bands running down its back. The ray was only caught on camera while it was swimming away and it was only in frame for almost thirty seconds. Then again 10 years later, a British television show called, “Holiday Guide to Australia” caught on film while flying over the Great Barrier Reef, a large manta ray with a pair of white v-shaped bands running down the length of its back. Not knowing the significance of what they had filmed below them, the aircraft continued on its way and left the mystery manta to swim alone in the open ocean.
So what is Beebe’s White-Banded Manta? Many believe it to be a new and uncategorized species of ray within the Manta family. The diamond shaped body, the shorter tail, and the straight horns make it stand apart from other known species of manta rays. Others believe that Beebe’s manta is nothing more than a normal Giant Manta (Manta birostris) with a color mutation or perhaps pigmentation loss. It is scientifically known that the dark pigmentation of the Giant Manta is easily rubbed off and as a result, creates white areas in the location of removal. Opponents of this theory though state that Beebe’s Manta cannot be a normal Giant Manta as they grow to over 26ft long and when their pigmentation is lost, it results in blotchy patches, not uniform v-shaped bands that parallel down the back.
Side note: It is worth mentioning that this is not the only sea cryptid that William Beebe is associated with. He also discovered and documented a wide range of fish of the coast of Bermuda back in 1932. These fish have never been seen since and are known as ‘Beebe’s Abyssal Fish’.
-The Pine Barrens Institute