For many years, the Kona Manta Rays have been photographed and identified using their unique spot pattern on their ventral (abdominal) side. The first Kona Manta Ray ever identified was named Lefty, because she had a bent left cephalic fin. She may also be the oldest known manta ray. She was a mature adult female ray when when Steve Myklebust first realized that it was the same manta ray returning to the Keauhou dive site repeatedly since mid 1979.
The manta identification project was started in 1991 by Keller and Wendy Laros, Co-Founders of Manta Pacific Research Foundation (MPRF). Naturally, Lefty became "Manta #1" and they started producing a Booklet with thumbnail photos of each manta's spot pattern in order to more easily re-identify them and keep track of them. Keller also started recording in a logbook which individual mantas were seen each evening at the dive site in Keauhou which was becoming a more popular tourist destination.
In 2003, Janice McLaughlin, also a Co-Founder of MPRF, took over the ID management responsibilities and created a website for MPRF that was able to show everyone the photos and story of each identified manta ray. She also created a website form system for dive guides to be able to report and log, when and where individual manta rays were seen.
In 2015, Janice left MPRF and started the mantarays.info project to create an online cloud based database of manta information and sightings to enable analysis and new research opportunities about their behaviours. In conjunction with the database, she also wrote an iOS App for the public to use to be able to view the current mantas and to submit their own images and sighting information while on the water. She continues to curate the Kona manta catalog and sighting data and coordinates all of the citizen science contributions from the community.
Now, starting in 2023, we are increasing our efforts to document manta sightings statewide, and to include more pelagic manta sightings in the database. Working with state organizations and other manta NGO's, we hope to learn more about how both species of mantas use and traverse the Hawaiian waters. We hope to expand our citizen science community to include those that are out on different parts of the ocean than our traditional coastal water community to add to the database of knowledge about these amazing animals.