Lifestyle & Human Interest

Divers Can't Figure Out Why Manta Ray Won't Leave Them Alone, Then Realize She's Begging for Help


An Australian diver experienced the thrill of a lifetime when a large manta ray approached him and seemingly asked for help removing fish hooks caught near her eye.

Jake Wilton, an underwater photographer and diver, frequents the waters around Australia’s Ningaloo Bay, often leading tour groups of snorkelers through the area.

Wilton believes that the 30-year-old manta ray, affectionately named “Freckles,” felt comfortable approaching him because of his regular appearances in the water where she lives.

This time, the sighting was different, as Freckles seemed to deliberately seek out Wilton’s help. During a May snorkeling excursion, Freckles swam right up to Wilton, showing him that she had been injured.

“It’s very rare for an animal to turn and come back over to you and present themselves,” Wilton told NBC News. “So I knew as soon as she started to interact with us, it was something very special.”

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The manta ray had large fish hooks buried dangerously close to her right eye, which Wilton said could have led to infection or even blindness.

“She got closer and closer and then started unfurling to present the eye to me,” Wilton said, according to the Daily Mail. “I knew we had to get the hooks out of her eye or she would have been in big trouble.”

Wilton made a handful of attempts to dive down with a pair of pliers to firmly, yet gently, remove the hooks that were embedded in the manta’s skin.

“I wasn’t really thinking about anything else except trying to get them out,” Wilton told NBC. “I really didn’t want to mess it up.”

British TV broadcaster and marine biologist Monty Halls was with Wilton that day, and believes Freckles knew that Wilton would help her.

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“Jake went down and down again. She never moved. I’m sure that manta knew that Jake was trying to get the hooks out,” Halls said, according to the Daily Mail. “That manta absolutely understood what was going on.”

After Wilton successfully removed the hooks, everyone cheered and clapped, overcome with emotion at the thrilling experience.

“It was pretty emotional,” Wilton told NBC. “I went down again, just one last time, just to say goodbye and she actually stopped and waited there.”

Wilton was happy to report that when he saw Freckles about two weeks after the incident, she appeared to be in good health and eating as usual.

“She seemed fine,” Wilton said, “which means we helped her, it worked.”

Liftable, a section of The Western Journal, has reached out to Wilton for comment but has not yet received a response. We will update this article if and when we do.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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