A giant manta ray has been filmed appearing to beg a professional diver for help saving her life.
The three-metre-wide sea creature is shown swimming up to snorkelling guide Jake Wilton and flipping over in the water – apparently to show him fish hooks embedded in her right eye.
The animal – well known to locals and affectionately nicknamed Freckles – then swims away with a flourish as the diver emerges triumphantly with the hooks.
Monty Halls, a British marine biologist aboard the boat at the time, said: “That manta absolutely understood what was going on. Jake went down again and again and she just remained still for him.”
The footage was released on Thursday by Ningaloo Marine Interactions, the tour company which Mr Wilton works for.
The hero himself suggested it was all in a day’s work.
“I’m often guiding snorkellers in the area and it’s as if she recognised me and was trusting me to help her,” he said.
“She got closer and closer and then started unfurling to present the eye to me. I knew we had to get the hooks out or she would have been in big trouble. I went for a few dives down to see how she’d react to me being close to her.”
When the animal stayed calm, he approached and took out the hooks.
"The manta stayed completely still in the water,” he said.
“It’s pretty incredible behaviour if this is what happened,” said David Boyle, lecturer in marine biology at the University of Plymouth. “It’s not uncommon for animals – generally mammals – to interact with divers but for one in distress to seek out assistance would be novel indeed.”
Manta rays are believed to be some of the most intelligent creatures in the ocean. Unlike stingrays, they don’t have an external spike and are generally harmless to humans.
Experts believe the injured eye would have become infected, leading to blindness and possible death.