The world’s only known pink manta ray was photographed last week in shallow waters near Lady Elliot Island, located in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the coast of Australia.
The novel creature, nicknamed Inspector Clouseau after the main character in “The Pink Panther,” was spotted by photographer Kristian Laine, who, at first, believed the ray’s vibrant hue may have resulted from a camera malfunction.
“At first, I was very confused,” Laine told Australian Geographic. “I was in the middle of a manta train with seven other mantas. I was looking through my viewfinder and was thinking it’s weird that one of the mantas looks pink.”
“I actually thought my strobes were playing up, making the manta look pink,” Laine added.
Upon returning to land, Laine discovered that the sighting was, in fact, authentic, and later took to Instagram to share photos of the “amazing and absolutely unforgettable encounter.”
Inspector Clouseau was first spotted by dive instructor Ryan Jeffery off Lady Elliot Island in 2015, ABC Australia previously reported.
The University of Queensland’s Project Manta lead scientist, Dr. Kathy Townsend, called the pink ray “a very curious thing,” adding that her team had never seen “anything like [it] in Australia before.”
At first, researchers believed the ray’s rosy belly may have been the result of a genetic mutation or a skin infection.
However, an examination of a small skin sample by scientists with Project Manta revealed that “there was no genetic difference noted at the broad population level.”
“There has not been a thorough investigation into diet or stable isotope analysis, but given the stability of the white “birthmark” (clearly seen in the second image) and pink colour over time we think diet can be ruled out,” said Project Manta’s Asia Armstrong. “The working theory is that it is just a different and very unique expression of the melanin, but that is still to be confirmed.”