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Kerstin And The Giant Manta Rays

Kerstin Forsberg is a Peruvian marine scientist and the champion of conserving the giant manta ray
Courtesy New England Aquarium
Kerstin Forsberg is a Peruvian marine scientist and the champion of conserving the giant manta ray

Just off the coast of Peru, there's a huge amount of sea life. There are whales, a robust fishing industry, and a strange, gentle creature the size of a car called the giant manta ray.

It sails through the water on big floppy wings, scooping up tiny sea life as it travels. And perhaps not surprisingly, it needs protection. A new film follows the champion of the giant manta ray, a Peruvian marine scientist named Kerstin Forsberg.

There's a free screening of the film, Kerstin and the Giant Manta Rays, and question and answer session with Forsberg at the New England Aquarium's IMAX Theatre on Wednesday, September 26 at 6:30 PM.

Forsberg is a New England Aquarium Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF) Fellow and heads up a group called Planeta Oceano (Planet Ocean) in Peru. 

“Manta rays are really magical,” Forsberg told Living Lab Radio. “First of all, they're completely harmless.”

Divers are able to get reasonably close to them, she said, and manta rays are curious. The rays are intelligent and can recognize themselves in a mirror.

The film follows Forsberg as she tries to conserve the remaining giant manta rays through education and research. It’s illegal to catch the rays on purpose in Peru now, but one of the biggest threats remains accidental capture by fishermen.

In a poignant moment of the film, a female manta ray washes up on the shore after it drowns in a fishing net. Not wanting to miss a research opportunity, Forsberg and her team dissect the dead ray and find a fully formed baby manta ray inside ready to be born. The pup is dead.

“I just feel really, really sad right now,” Forsberg tells the camera, explaining that it takes two to seven years for a female manta ray to produce one pup.

“So, you know how much energy that manta invested and how much time that cost for that manta to have that pup. And now it’s gone.” 

But Forsberg uses the incident to learn more, visiting the fisherman at his home and asking him how the government and experts could help him avoid capturing manta rays.

One of the ideas that came out of the meeting was a program in which fishermen could be reimbursed for the loss of their net and their catch if they cut a net to release a manta ray.

“That was our approach with this fisherman,” she said. “Not blaming him necessarily for targeting the manta ray but rather thinking with him what we could do to avoid those things happening once again.”

Web content by Elsa Partan.

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Elsa Partan is a producer and newscaster with CAI. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.