Sitting in a boat amid breaching mobula rays has been likened to sitting in a pot of popcorn as the kernels explode into the air. They gather in the hundreds, using their fins like wings to propel themselves out of the water — sometimes for several seconds — before belly-flopping with a loud splash back into the sea.
The behavior is rarely caught on camera, but zoologist and wildlife photographer Mark Carwardine managed to capture these magnificent animals in action with the help of a drone.
“I spend every winter running whale-watching trips in Baja California, Mexico — it's one of my favorite places on the planet," he's quoted saying in the YouTube video caption. “And on my most recent trip, we saw something quite extraordinary."
The mobula rays have earned a nickname among fishermen in this area: “flying tortillas." With a “wingspan" of 3 feet and the ability to soar over 6.5 feet above the water's surface, the metaphor seems fitting.
This ray species is closely related to sharks and look similar to manta rays, which belong to the same family. Their breaching behavior can last for 24 hours, with both females and males “flying" in the air for several seconds before splashing back into the water.
Scientists are still undecided about the purpose of this behavior, though theories include communication, feeding, courting or even ridding themselves of parasites.