A manta ray with fish hooks under the eye was saved by passing divers after one of them had been recognized as a regular guest in the water.
Jake Wilton, an underwater photographer who guides tourists through the Australian Ningaloo Bay, discovered the popular animal, called “freckles”, in distress.
Extraordinary shots show the 30-year-old ray approaching Mr. Wilton and his colleagues in a desperate bid for help removing the hooks.
The manta ray spreads its wings in front of Mr. Wilton, and after several attempts the diver is able to remove the hooks under her eye.
She came closer and closer and then unfolded to show me the eye,” he said.
“I knew we had to take the hooks out of her eyelet, otherwise she would have been in big trouble.
After a few attempts, Mr. Wilton needed one last dive to open the hooks.
I went down for one last try and the manta ray remained completely still in the water,” he said.
The video shows Jake triumphantly ascending with the hooks from the sea before the jet majestically swims away.
Mr. Halls, who had been aboard the divers’ nearby boat the whole time, said the Manta must have known that Mr. Wilton was trying to help.
Jake kept going back and forth. She never moved. I’m sure the Manta knew that Jake was trying to get the hooks out,” he said.
This manta ray absolutely understood what was going on. Jake kept going down and she just stood still for him,” Mr. Halls said.
Unlike stingrays, manta rays have no outer sting and are completely harmless to humans.
They can grow up to seven metres wide and live to be about 50 years old.
Foreign bodies impaled on the skin of marine animals can often lead to disease and even death from infection and the inability to remove them.
Freckles have also been exposed to a significant risk of blindness when the hooks have moved.
Ningaloo Reef is one of the largest of its kind in the world, 300 km long and home to more than 500 tropical fish species.
Coral Bay, located along a section of Ningaloo Reef, is one of the best places in the world to swim with manta rays that gather in large numbers all year round.
Other marine animals seen on the World Heritage-listed reef include humpback whales, dolphins, whale sharks, dugongs and turtles.