Pander Rays

Manta Rays, Rebecca Pilkington-Vincett, shamelessly pinched from here.

I'm no fan of Descartes, but we could sure use some clear and distinct ideas. As opposed to this example of fuzzy thinking: Scientists rush to save manta rays, the "pandas of the sea."
I'm not certain we should trust the judgment of "scientists" who think the creature pictured is like a panda, but the indistinct thinking doesn't stop with that absurd comparison:
“They’re such an iconic species, beloved by divers,” said Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who came up with the description during an interview with NBC News. “They’re just amazing.”
I submit that the words "iconic" and "amazing" as used in this paragraph have no meaning; they just sound good to the speaker. "Iconic" refers to a work of art "executed in accordance with tradition or convention," which is clearly not what she means. And "amazing" is a word women have made into a catch-all term. The dinner is "amazing," her make-up was "amazing," the work-out was "amazing," the kindness of her friend is "amazing." Absolutely everything on Pinterest is "amazing.

So what we have is some vague assertions amounting to: "I like manta rays."  Of course, she's entitled, but it's not "science."

Scientists are "rushing" to "save" the manta rays, but it's not clear what action they are taking that constitutes a "rush" and we don't actually know if mantas need saving:
Globally we don’t know how many manta rays there are,” said Guy Stevens, director of the U.K.-based Manta Trust, whose research is largely based around manta populations in the Maldives.But -- again, like the panda -- scientists think it’s a small population.
“If they’re lucky, (manta rays) have two pups (over several years). That’s a very low reproductive rate, especially compared to your average fish,” said Dr. Heidi Dewar, a biologist at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, part of NOAA.
Anecdotal evidence suggests mantas are under threat, and China may be a major reason for it.
The story continues with the assertion that a new fad in Chinese "traditional" medicine is endangering all the mantas...but then when they visit traditional medicine practitioners, they don't find any manta parts.
Visits to random TCM shops in Beijing and Shanghai turned up no gill rakers. In fact, a veteran pharmacist at Tongrentang, a long-established purveyor of traditional Chinese and herbal medicines, said she had never heard of manta rays being used this way.
Then comes this complaint: 
Groups like Manta Trust are focusing on getting manta rays listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). But scientists have their work cut out for them.
“It’s very difficult to get listed on CITES.  They ask for a lot of detail that is difficult to pin down,” said Marshall.  “Maybe in the terrestrial world, biologists can provide those kinds of details.  When you’re talking about the megafauna [or large marine species] world, it’s very difficult.”
Wow, it must be a real drag, having to produce empirical evidence before a body will create internationally enforceable rules. And does this time-consuming evidence gathering constitute the "rushing" of the headline?

We're then treated to a series of admissions that we don't know beans about manta rays.
Vexing questions include the manta’s life span, details of their reproductive ecology and migratory patterns. “I could wrap my life up in 20 minutes if I could talk to them,” she joked.  “It has been driving me insane for the last ten years because I haven’t been able to figure out where they give birth.  It’s 2012 and nobody has ever seen a manta give birth in the wild.” 
And research is painstaking. For one, concentrations of the animal tend to be around far-flung islands. Stevens of Manta Trust cited the costs of tracking mantas and the difficulty in locating and knowing how to study them.
So we don't know anything about manta reproduction, but we know that they only have two pups every five years? And: 
“I think it’s fascinating,” said Dewar of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, “that there is such a large and amazing [!] creature that has so many mysteries attached to it.”
Well, that last part is splendid: that the earth still contains mysteries to unravel and that people should approach those mysteries with child-like wonder.

But to review what we've learned from this story:
  • Manta rays are just like no way whatsoever.
  • Scientists are "rushing" to aid mantas with no specific action.
  • Scientists wish to "save" a species for which there is no evidence of its being endangered.
  • We know nothing about manta reproduction, which is one of the great mysteries, but can say with certainty that they give birth to about two pups in a lifetime.
  • Chinese medicine may be responsible for over-fishing of mantas, though there's no evidence of this apart from a lady seeing a fishing boat in the Maldives once.
Which all amounts to: Andrea Marshall and her colleagues are intrigued by manta rays. I would have enjoyed the story more -- and probably learned more-- if that had been the angle rather than: scientists hope for more research money and therefore invent a crisis and a bad guy out of whole cloth.