Kristian Laine was free diving near Lady Elliot Island in Australia, hoping to get a few good photos of the diverse sea creatures who call the Great Barrier Reef home.
He had no idea that he was about to get the luckiest shot a photographer could ask for.
Laine spotted six male manta rays chasing a female, known as a manta train, so he held his breath and dove down. Looking through the viewfinder of his camera, he focused on something unusual. One of the mantas leading the chase wasn’t black or white — he was bright pink.
“I was looking through the viewfinder and locked eyes with it,” Laine told The Dodo. “Only when I fired my strobes to take a photo I noticed its pink color. I had no idea there were any pink mantas in the world so I was confused and thought my strobes were broken or doing something weird.”
Laine was pretty sure that his camera was malfunctioning, but he decided to follow the train and snap a few more shots of the special ray. And the rosy manta didn’t seem to mind the attention: “He was extremely calm,” Laine said. “I remember looking into its eyes and it was almost like he was smiling or at least very friendly.”
The whole interaction only lasted about a half hour but would change Laine’s life forever. “I felt a connection there,” he added.
When Laine returned to land, he came across a photo of the area’s most famous and reclusive inhabitant — a bubblegum pink manta named Inspector Clouseau.
“I rushed back to check in my camera,” Laine said. “My jaw dropped when I realized what I had just witnessed.”
Inspector Clouseau was first spotted in 2015, sparking debates as to what exactly gives him his rosy hue. A skin biopsy of the ray in 2016 ruled out any infection or irregularities in diet causing the color, National Geographic reported.
Scientists’ current theory is that the color is caused by a rare genetic mutation, such as erythrism, which causes an abnormal redness in an animal’s skin, fur or feathers, according to National Geographic. Or, in this case, a pinkness.
The 11-foot manta seems to be doing just fine, despite standing out from the crowd. And if he’s successful in his courtship, we may see more pink mantas in the next few years.
But for now, Inspector Clouseau is wowing the world — one diver at a time. “It’s pretty humbling and I feel extremely lucky,” Laine said. “It was a pretty special day for me.”