The short musical film “Mantas Last Dance” was released Monday, a day after the Academy Awards, and is sure to garner high praise among ocean enthusiasts and conservationists. But the spectacular imagery, featuring giant Pacific mantas and professional mermaid-model Hannah Fraser, are likely to be appreciated by viewers from all walks of life (the first manta encounter is at the 1:05 mark).
“I don’t think anything like this has been done before with mantas, or anything big for that matter,” said Shawn Heinrichs, founder of Blue Sphere Media and co-producer of the film, with Fraser. “Strapped to the ocean floor by 50 pounds of lead, in heavy surge late at night…. Yet creating a perfect ballet with huge manta rays!”
As for Fraser, she really is that close to the majestic mantas in a production filmed off Kona, Hawaii. The effort intends to raise awareness to the plight of a docile, plankton-eating creature that faces an uncertain future, thanks to unregulated fishing in parts of the world. Little is known about their migration habits, but mantas are believed to travel long distances and are slow to reproduce, making them vulnerable.
The concept of the production is simple. Mantas are on the brink of extinction and Fraser is a “wanderer, a sea gypsy, a manta ray reincarnate as a person, lost to the world.”
Craving a return to a time long past, she wanders into the waves and drifts into the abyss, where she’s reunited with her lost family, emulating their moves as they emulate hers.
The effort was extensive in terms of lighting, camera usage and demands on a vast crew. The team required five consecutive 20-hour days to complete the filming portion. During her many breath-hold dives, which often lasted a minute or more, Fraser had one ankle anchored to the sea floor with 50 pounds of weights, which enabled her to sway with the current, 30 feet beneath the surface.
“Mantas Last Dance” is part of the Manta Ray of Hope campaign with input from WildAid, Shark Savers and Manta Trust. This will be part of a presentation at the upcoming meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), at which manta conservation will be addressed.
“Unsustainable fisheries are now wiping out their small and isolated populations,” Heinrichs explains in a blog post released along with the film and a public service announcement from Sir Richard Branson. “One of the primary drivers of this increase in fisheries is the gill trade, and market that uses Manta gills in a pseudo-medicinal tonic in China and elsewhere in Asia.
“On the other hand, Manta Ray Eco-Tourism is worth over $140 million worldwide, and this tourism is now under severe threat from fisheries and the gill trade. Our objective was to present the beauty of the manta rays, their willingness to interact with humans in the hope of inspiring people to conserve this magnificent animal.”
Kona is a famous manta haunt and extremely popular among divers. Hawaii has established laws to protect them against exploitation within state waters.
“Mantas Last Dance” is a follow-up to an earlier Whale Shark Fashion Shoot, raising awareness for another gigantic, docile plankton-eater believed to be threatened by extensive fishing.
The groups ask those who want to help mantas to sign a petition that will be delivered to the CITES meeting, the first in three years, in March.