Mobula rays are known for their acrobatic displays. Commonly referred to as "devil rays" or "jumping rays", they are sometimes seen in their masses propelling themselves out of the blue to score a few seconds of airtime before bellyflopping back into the water. Californian Erik Jones was lucky enough to witness this spectacle firsthand on a recent trip to Baja, Mexico.

Eager to film whales heading south on their migration, Jones flew his drone out over the ocean and happened upon multiple fevers (yes, that’s the collective noun) of devil rays putting on a show.

"I was super excited to watch these amazing rays jumping out of the water as it was a novel sight for me,” he explained to Caters News.

Mobula rays hail from the same group as the better-known manta ray. These winged fish can launch themselves to heights of more than two metres (6.5ft), often remaining airborne for several seconds before splashing back down.

Their diet is made up of plankton and small fish, so these rays may be scoping out the surface waters in search of good pickings. It’s also possible that they are spending their daylight hours close to the surface soaking up some sun in preparation for a bout of monumental nighttime diving. Devil rays in the Azores have been recorded diving to depths of nearly two kilometres (1,24 miles) and are equipped with a special mass of blood vessels to help keep their brains warm in the icy conditions of the deep sea.

If you look closely you’ll spot a horn-like protrusion on the front of the ray’s head. This is known as a cephalic fin and it helps funnel food to the mouth – an appendage that may come in handy when foraging in the darkness of the deep.

As for the jumping, we’re not quite sure why rays do that. Many possible explanations have been put forward linking the behaviour to everything from hunting and courting to parasite removal. Scientists also believe the breaching may act as a form of communication as sound waves are pushed through the water on reentry.

It’s also possible that the flap flaps are just having a bit of fun.


Top header image: Nick Bonzey, Flickr