Did you know that our world has a single, rare pink manta ray? I didn’t either, but apparently, his pigmentation has led him to be named Inspector Clouseau after the bumbling detective of the “Pink Panther” franchise.
Inspector Clouseau was first spotted back in 2015, gliding through the waters of Australia’s Lady Elliot Island. He’s a big boy at 11-feet, but he’s only been seen a small number of times as reported by Bethany Augliere on behalf of National Geographic. The mysterious fish is so rare to spot, in fact, that when Kristian Laine captured the latest footage of Clouseau, she mistook his coloring for a malfunction on her camera equipment.
As Laine described to Australian Geographic’s Angela Healthcote, “At first I was very confused. I actually thought my strobes were playing up.”
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Clouseau was swimming with a group of seven other male manta rays, all of them flashing their white undersides. According to Australian Geographic, the group was trying to get the attention of a nearby female. It was all part of a courting ritual where a female ray releases her pheromones before quickly swimming away – kicking off a chase as the males all go in pursuit of her.
Clouseau was first caught on camera five years ago by dive instructor Ryan Jeffery – and since then, he’s been causing a bit of a stir, Rachel Riga reported on behalf of Australia’s ABC News. Pictures of Clouseau began to make the rounds online, prompting the Project Manta research group to show an interest in researching the cause for the ray’s flamboyantly pink skin.
Jeffery described Clouseau’s personality as calm, so Project Manta researcher Kathy Townsend said to ABC News that it was unlikely caused by stress – a factor that can sometimes turn the normally white bellies of sharks and rays a reddish tint. The following year, team member Amelia Armstrong managed to get a small biopsy sample from Clouseau that helped to rule out both a skin infection and a red-pigmented diet as causes.
Using the process of elimination, Project Manta reached a new hypothesis. Researcher Aia Haines told National Geographic that now they are wondering if Clouseau’s pink hue is a result of a genetic mutation that affected his skin pigment.
Mutations like that are pretty common within the animal world. It can happen to fish as much as it can happen to humans with albinism. There is one genetic mutation known as erythrism, which has been known to give animals a reddish or pinkish tone, resulting in strawberry-blonde leopards as well as fuschia grasshoppers.
If this is the case, then Clouseau’s condition would be the first amongst manta rays as it would be a documented departure from the normal dual camouflage of a black back and white belly. This typically allows rays to blend in with their surroundings since from above their backs hide them in the shadowy waters, and from below, their white bellies mimic the shimmering sunlit surface.
While he’s brightly colored, Clouseau’s coloring shouldn’t get him into trouble. Guy Stevens, co-founder of the United Kingdom’s Manta Trust, explained to National Geographic that thanks to their imposing sizes, manta rays only have to worry about the very large predators, and as a result, many are able to live for decades in the wild. And given that his sightings are quite rare, it’s probably safe to say that Clouseau is going a great job of keeping himself hidden.
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.