A photographer has captured remarkable images of what is believed to be the only pink manta ray on Earth.
Photographer Kristian Laine took the pictures while diving off Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Nicknamed Inspector Clouseau after the inspector in “The Pink Panther” media franchise, the ray measures 11 feet and was first discovered in 2015.
In an interview with ScienceAlert, Laine said he had “never even heard of a pink manta” and initially believed it was his camera malfunctioning. “Only later that night I saw a photo of a pink manta on the restaurant’s notice board and thought it was a joke until I rushed to check the belly patterns in my camera,” Laine told the news outlet.
It’s unclear at this point why the flattened fish has its pink hue, but experts have theorized it could be linked to its diet.
“There has not been a thorough investigation into diet or stable isotope analysis, but given the stability of the white ‘birthmark’ (clearly seen in the second image) and pink color over time we think diet can be ruled out,” Asia Armstrong of Project Manta said in a Facebook post. “The working theory is that it is just a different and very unique expression of the melanin, but that is still to be confirmed.”
National Geographic reported that the ray has only been seen 10 times since it was first spotted in 2015.
Manta rays, which can weigh as much as 5,300 pounds, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), are found “worldwide in tropical, subtropical, and temperate bodies of water and is commonly found offshore, in oceanic waters, and near productive coastlines,” according to NOAA.
They are also closely related to sharks and, like their relatives, are solitary animals and graceful swimmers.
In June 2018, scientists discovered a site off the Texas coast that they believe is the world’s first known manta ray nursery. Two months later, a photographer in Maryland captured a remarkable image of a manta ray breaching the water.
Fox News’ James Rogers and Madeline Farber contributed to this story.