World's first manta ray born in captivity in Japan, aquarium claims

The world's first giant manta ray born in captivity could provide scientists with valuable data about the little-understood species, the baby's Japanese keepers say.

The baby manta, a female, was born late Saturday in a huge fish tank at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, more than a year after its parents mated, the aquarium said in a statement posted Sunday on its Web site.

Aquarium officials said the manta was the first ever born in captivity.

"We unfolded some of the mysteries about the life of manta rays, including the length of their pregnancy," aquarium official Minoru Toda said. "Now we have to make sure the baby grows in good health."

In a video capturing the birth, the baby manta, rolled up like a tube, came sliding out of the mother manta, then quickly spread its fins and began swimming around.

The scene, recorded by the aquarium, was broadcast by national broadcaster NHK on Sunday. The aquarium started raising manta rays in 1988.

Noriyasu Suzuki, an official at the Izu-Mito Sea Paradise commercial aqua zoo in western Japan, said he also thought the birth in captivity could be a world first.

"I've never heard of any other case before," he said. "Aquariums that raise manta rays are rare to begin with ... because they get so big."

According to the aquarium, the newborn manta was 1.9 meters (more than 6 feet) wide.

The mother manta, which was brought to the aquarium in 1998 after hitting a fishnet off the southern island of Okinawa, about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, mated with its partner on June 8, 2006, and was pregnant with the baby for 374 days - far longer than a human pregnancy - according to the statement.

Toda said little has been known about the life of manta ray, and the record of pregnancy and the birth would provide valuable scientific data to the studies of the species.