The Georgia Aquarium is excited to welcome Nandi, the manta ray!
Nandi is the first manta ray to ever be in a United States aquarium, making Georgia Aquarium one of only four aquariums in the world to house them. Nandi was rescued from shark nets off the coast of Durban, South Africa and rehabilitated by uShaka Marine World, the largest marine park in Africa. She has lived in uShaka for the past year, educating and inspiring conservation in more than 500,000 people. Manta rays are the largest rays in the sea, but Nandi was very young and small when she was rescued at just eight feet across. In just one year, she doubled in weight and outgrew her 580,000 gallon exhibit. In order to raise world-wide awareness about manta rays, Georgia Aquarium and uShaka created an international partnership to bring Nandi on a 9,000-mile journey from South Africa to her new 6.3 million gallon home in the world's largest exhibit, Ocean Voyager, built by The Home Depot.
Read more about Nandi's story below, and be sure to check out the team that brought her here and their incredible journey from uShaka Marine World in South Africa.
The Natal Sharks Board
In the 1940s, Durban, South Africa, began to quickly grow as an international tourist destination. Millions of dollars were invested to attract people from around the world to the mild climate and perfect beaches of Durban. In the 1950s and 1960s, a series of shark attacks began to threaten Durban’s tourist appeal. Durban installed nets in 1952 following a series of fatal shark attacks. While Durban suffered no more serious attacks, other netless resorts nearby did. During a 107-day stretch, from December 1957 to April 1958, five people died in shark attacks, a period known as “Black December.” International media began proclaiming the beaches unsafe, and South Africa’s tourist draw was threatened. In 1964, the Natal Sharks Board (NSB) installed nets at most major resorts. Since the nets were installed off the coast of Durban in 1952, no serious shark attacks have been reported along this beachfront known as the Golden Mile. The nets were designed to keep three species of sharks from entering the tourist waters - the great white shark, tiger shark and bull shark. However, the nets do have their drawbacks. While they prevent shark attacks, some animals are routinely caught in the nets, unable to free themselves. For decades, the NSB has patrolled the nets for animals that are caught, releasing the unharmed animals and bringing those less fortunate back for science and education. The NSB has also created a partnership with the largest marine park in Africa, uShaka Marine World, formerly Sea World Durban, to care for animals in need that have been caught in the nets.
In May 2007, the NSB came across a rare catch. A young manta ray, the largest of all rays, measuring about eight feet across, was caught in Durban’s shark nets. The manta ray was in need of care, and the NSB worked quickly to take it back to uShaka’s largest exhibit, a 580,000 gallon ocean display. Immediately, Dr. Mark Penning, the executive director of uShaka and a veterinarian, went to work on the animal’s wounds. uShaka reached out to colleagues, including the Georgia Aquarium. At first, the animal would not eat, but her primary caretaker, Jerry Ntombela, kept at it for nearly two weeks until she started eating krill from a ladle, just like the whale sharks at Georgia Aquarium. The manta ray became known as Nandi, named after the mother of Shaka, king of the Zulu Kingdom. Nandi grew to more than nine feet across and was close to outgrowing the exhibit at uShaka. One option was to release Nandi into the Ocean, but the team at uShaka saw the power a manta ray had to inspire people to be stewards of the ocean. Additionally, Dr. Penning did not want to see Nandi end up in the shark nets again or on a fisherman's boat. Penning’s concerns were alleviated when the Georgia Aquarium reached out to see if uShaka would be amenable to moving Nandi to Georgia Aquarium’s 6.3 million gallon habitat. During her year at uShaka, more than 500,000 people have seen and learned from Nandi, including school groups from the countryside, many of whom have never been introduced to manta rays or many other aquatic animals. Georgia Aquarium hopes to continue this trend, educating millions of visitors each year about manta rays and inspiring conservation.