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Diver who helped Freckles after she asked for help says she is well

Diver who helped Freckles the manta ray after she came to him for help with hooks caught in her skin says she is doing well and appeared to RECOGNISE him when he checked on her

  • Photographer, Jake Wilton, checked in on Freckles who floated above him for 30 seconds in Ningaloo Bay
  • Mr Wilton had spotted her in distress swimming with a hook under her eye earlier this month
  • Footage shows the animal unfurling her wings and floating completely still before the diver in Australia
  • After several attempts Mr Wilton was able to free the hooks and save her from potential blindness and disease

Freckles, the manta ray, who garnered world-wide attention after she stopped a pair of divers in a bid to get a fishing hook removed from under her eye is doing well.  

Her rescuer, Australian diver, Jake Wilton, checked in on the ray in Australia’s Ningaloo Bay and believes the majestic creature may have recognised him. 

‘I went down for a dive [to check up on her] and she stopped and hung around for about 30 seconds above me – it was pretty wild,’ he told BBC News. 

‘They have self-awareness and can recognise individual manta rays, so she could have recognised me.’ 

The manta ray was spotted, earlier this month, distressed and swimming with fishing hooks stuck under her eye, by Mr Wilton, and his colleagues. 

Extraordinary footage released last week, showed the 30-year-old ray approaching Mr Wilton and his colleagues in a desperate bid for help to remove the hooks. 

The manta ray spreads her wings before Mr Wilton and after several attempts the diver is able to take the hooks from under her eye.

‘She got closer and closer and then started unfurling to present the eye to me,’ he said. 

The heartbreaking footage shows the ray (pictured), nicknamed Freckles by local divers, approaching the group on Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia

The three-metre-wide gentle giant flipped her body over to show them the hooks as if she knew that without the diver’s help, she would be in danger


1996 – A three-year-old child fell into a gorilla enclosure at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois a gorilla called Binti Jua looked after him. 

She sheltered and protected him from the other gorillas in the enclosure until he could be rescued by keepers. 

2000 – Kevin Hines made an attempt to take his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.

He was kept afloat by a nearby Sea Lion until the coast guard arrived.  

2004 – A pod of dolphins off the coast of New Zealand began circling a group of four lifeguards and slapped water at them to get their attention. 

The lifeguards, out on a training exercise, were alerted to the presence of a circling Great white shark. 

2005 –  A pride of lions in Ethiopia protected a girl who was only 12 after she had been abandoned by kidnappers in the wild.   

‘I knew we had to get the hooks out of her eye or she would have been in big trouble.’ 

After a few attempts, Mr Wilton needed one final dive to clear the hooks.

‘I went down for one last try and the manta stayed completely still in the water,’ he said.

The video shows Jake rise triumphantly from the ocean with the hooks before the ray swims majestically away. 

Mr Halls, who was aboard the divers’ nearby boat throughout, said the manta must have known Mr Wilton was trying to help.  

‘Jake went down and down again. She never moved. I’m sure that manta knew that Jake was trying to get the hooks out,’ he said. 

‘That manta absolutely understood what was going on. Jake went down again and again and she just remained still for him,’ Mr Halls said.

Unlike stingrays, manta rays don’t have an external spike and are totally harmless to humans. 

They can grow up to seven meters wide and live for around 50 years. 

Foreign objects that impale in the skin of marine creatures can often lead to disease and even death due to infection and the inability to remove them.

Freckles was also at significant risk of blindness should the hooks have moved. 

Manta rays are believed to be some of the most intelligent creatures in the ocean and have several traits and studies to support this claim.

The large fish belong to a order known as Myliobatiformes which includes stingrays and other similar species and is a group closely related to that of sharks and are characterised by their cartilaginous bodies. 

Further classification of the majestic marine animals puts them in the family Myliobatidae (eagle rays).

There are two scales of how intelligence is roughly estimated in different species, brain mass and brain size relative to the animal’s body.

Manta rays certainly measure up well on the former as they have the largest brain of any fish.

But many other animals of similar body size have smaller brains and survive just fine.

What distinguishes the manta ray, as well as animals like humans and elephants, is that the brain is very large when compared to the body.

This means the animal has invested heavily over the course of its evolution in its brain power, indicating a clear advantage to greater intelligence and concerted effort to improve its capacity.

Many researchers believe, and previous studies have indicated, that they are capable of recognition, of others and potentially even of themselves, and have almost mammalian intelligence – far more advanced than that of regular fish.

Self-recognition is an elite test of intelligence and mirror tests have only proved that great apes and bottlenose dolphins have this ability.

It is believed mantas do too as when presented with a mirror they behave unusually, repeating motions often – similar to a human ‘preening’ themselves.

This is not how manta rays react when faced with another animal and implies it is aware of its own reflection, scientists believe.

This intelligence manifests itself in nature in the form of mantas often going out of their way to investigate different things out of curiosity.

Their large brains are also believed to have engorged regions known to play a role in higher functions, such as intelligence, vision and motor coordination.

In addition, manta rays are known to repeatedly revisit the same feeding areas or so-called ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs — where cleaner fish will nibble away any parasitic organisms that have attached themselves to the manta.

This behaviour has led researchers to conclude that mantas are able to creative cognitive maps of their environment to help them navigate back to these preferred locations.

They are also known to be highly curious animals and often initiate play-like behaviour with human divers — a phenomenon otherwise really only seen to such an extent in intelligent social marine mammals like dolphins and whales.

Divers also report that mantas actively solicit help when tangled in lines or injured, rather than the fear response more typical of a vulnerable animal.

Although few mantas are kept in captivity due to their size, marine experts at the S.E.A. Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa claim that the rays are able to recognise gesture cues — such as being tapped twice on the head. 

Ningaloo Reef is one of the biggest of its kind in the world, measuring more than 180 miles (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 which congregate in large numbers year-round. 

Other marine wildlife which can be spotted on the World-heritage listed reef include humpback whales, dolphins, whale sharks, dugongs and turtles. 

After several attempts, Jake was able to successfully remove the hooks from underneath Freckles

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