It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a giant manta ray!

By Meghan Overdeep
March 18, 2021
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Florida resident Rusty Escandell was enjoying a day at the beach and taking photos of surfers when he photographed a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

"I kind of saw a splash behind the surfer, but didn't think much of it," Escandell recalled to CNN. "It could have been a fish, could have been anything."

Manta Ray Photobomb
Credit: Rusty Escandell

Escandell just so happened to take a burst of photos the instant a giant manta ray breached just a few feet away from a surfer—though he didn't realize he'd captured the split-second encounter until he was home.

"Photo bombers, they want all the attention lol," he wrote alongside the now-viral photo on Facebook.

Escandell, who owns Toy-Lex auto repair shop in Satellite Beach, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that the photo was takenat Officers Club Beach at Patrick Space Force Base.

He said that the fact that both of his daughters are marine biologists makes the photo even more special.

"They were all excited about the attention the marine life is getting and it's bringing awareness," Escandell told the paper. "Quite frankly, I'm thrilled so many people find this exciting and interesting. Awareness is always a good thing."

With a wingspan of up to 29 feet, the giant manta ray has the distinction of being the world's largest ray. In December 2020, it also became the first manta ray species to be listed as endangered by International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Jessica Pate, a senior scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation, told CNN that it's not known why giant manta rays jump out of the water. Experts theorize that it could be a mating ritual or even a way of communicating.