Manta rays and their smaller cousins, mobula rays, have until recently escaped the ravages of major fisheries, as their flesh has always been regarded as poor quality. But in recent years, the feathery gill rakers of the filter-feeding rays have become highly desirable in the Chinese medicine trade, often consumed in soup, like shark fins. The soaring value of the rakers has resulted in massive, unsustainable catches in Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, which is where Thomas took this photograph. Climbing onto the roof of a fish market, he used a long exposure to blur the moving crowd of traders while keeping the mobula ray carcasses in sharp focus. These ancient animals are slow breeders - a female might not mate until she is 15 years old and might give birth to only 10-16 pups in a 40-year lifetime, if she avoids being caught. The problem is that as surface feeders, rays are easy to spot, and because of their habit of aggregating in huge groups in regular feeding places or at cleaning stations, whole populations are easily wiped out. Conservationists see ecotourism as one way of giving a different value to coastal ray populations and see publicity for their rapid decline as vital if fisheries are to be regulated.
Nikon D700 + 24-70mm lens; 25 sec at f22; ISO 320; tripod.
Negombo, Sri Lanka
Sign up to receive emails from the Natural History Museum about events and exhibitions, including Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Thomas P Peschak, Germany / South Africa
Thomas is an assignment photographer for National Geographic Magazine. He has written and photographed five books and won multiple Wildlife Photographer of the Year and World Press Photo awards. He is a speaker for the National Geographic Live series and in 2015 gave a TED talk titled Dive Into an Ocean Photographer's World.