Wearing high-tech satellite transmitters on their backs, six manta rays cruised through Mexico’s coastal waters. As they swam, they sent signals to a team of conservationists, who followed along, virtually. At the end of a two-month period, the researchers had pulled back the curtains on the ways of a most mysterious ocean giant, a species considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The mantas proved to be long-distance mariners, traveling as far as 680 miles over the study period as they searched for food. They stuck mainly to the coast, and also spent considerable time in shipping lanes, putting them at risk for collisions with freighters.

“Almost nothing is known about the movements and ecological needs of the manta ray, one of the ocean’s largest and least-known species,” said Dr. Rachel Graham, lead author on the study and director of WCS’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. “Our real-time data illuminate the previously unseen world of this mythic fish and will help to shape management and conservation strategies for this species.”