Inspector Clouseau (so named after the detective in the Pink Panther cartoons), an 11-foot male manta ray with a bright pink underbelly, was first sighted by dive instructor Ryan Jeffery in 2015. The images he took caught the attention – and curiosity – of the Project Manta research group (and everyone else) who sees him.
Sightings are rare, but recently another diver caught a glimpse – and a once in a lifetime shot.
“At first I was very confused,” said Kristian Laine, the photographer and diver who saw him this time. “I actually thought my strobes were playing up.”
When she spotted him, he was at first concealed by seven other male manta rays (all with white undersides), and was vying for the attention of a nearby female with the rest of his bros.
Manta ray courtship rituals involve a lady ray releasing pheromones into the water and then zooming away, inviting the male rays to give chase. Clouseau’s demeanor was calm and in-line with the rest of his mates, which gave scientists reason to rule out the idea that the coloration could be a reaction to stress.
Over the years, researchers have ruled out other theories on the reason for his bright pink color, too. Project Manta researcher Kathy Townsend said they’ve also had the opportunity to look at a biopsy, which ruled out skin infections and a red-pigment-heavy diet, as well.
So why is he pink? They’re still not sure, though the current working theory is that his blush is the result of a genetic mutation and nothing more. Similar mutations are fairly common across the animal kingdom, including in fish, leopards, and grasshoppers.
If you’re worried this big guy’s pretty colors will spell his doom in the face of predators, Guy Stevens, co-founder of the United Kingdom’s Manta Trust, told National Geographic that he’s not worried. Because of their size, manta rays have very few natural predators and Clouseau seems to be doing just fine.
He’s survived for decades, pink and proud, eluding even the prying eyes of the humans swimming through his Lady Elliot Island (and beyond) domain all of this time, too.
I imagine spotting him feels something like magic. Thank goodness for pictures, which let the rest of us have just a taste of what it might have felt like to be in that moment in time.