While the whole world is focused on exploring space and that which lies beyond the stars, with one of the most recent advancements being these high definition photographs of the sun, there are some that are pointing at the things we are yet to know right here on our planet.

The National Ocean Service states that more than 80 percent of our planet’s oceans are still unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. We’re talking about 361 million square kilometers (139 million square miles) of water that amounts to a bit over 70 percent of the world’s total area.

So, there’s still heaps to explore on our own planet!

A diver named Kristian Laine stumbled upon a male manta ray like no other in the Great Barrier Reef

Image credits: Kristian Laine

A photographer by the name of Kristian Laine was recently out diving off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. He was taking some shots of the aquatic life there when he stumbled upon such an unusual sight that, at first, he thought his camera was broken. Bored Panda reached out to Kristian Laine for an interview.

As Laine was photographing a group of male manta rays chasing after a female manta ray, he noticed in his photographs that one was unlike the others. While manta rays are generally black on top and white underneath, this one was black on top, but pink underneath.

“At first, I saw a manta train of 7 manta rays around a bommie at Lady Elliot Island, and they were about 12 meters deep, so I waited for the right moment to hold my breath and dive down,” elaborated Kristian. “When I was eye level with the pink manta, I was looking through the viewfinder and locked eyes with it. Only when I fired my strobes to take a photo, I noticed its pink skin but had no idea there are any pink mantas in the world. I was confused and thought my strobes were broken or doing something weird.”

To everyone’s surprise, instead of the usual black and white, this manta ray was black and pink

Image credits: Kristian Laine

It turns out this is Inspector Clouseau, the only known pink manta ray in the world with a skin gene mutation

Image credits: Kristian Laine

Laine explained that he had no idea manta rays can be pink. At first, this confusion led him to think that his camera’s strobes were malfunctioning. However, upon closer inspection, it was clear that his eyes weren’t deceiving him—it was an actual pink manta ray, prompting him to take pictures.

“[The pink manta ray] was extremely calm. I remember looking into its eyes and it felt almost as if it was smiling (or, at least, very friendly). The whole interaction lasted about 20 to 30 minutes.” explained Kristian. “I dove down multiple times, not really realizing how special the manta really is but I accidentally timed my dives in a way that I managed to get about 5 good photos of it interacting in the manta train and chasing the female. I believe at times the pink manta was first or second in line to the female beating other males in order.”

It turns out that the aquatic photographer ran into the rare pink manta ray nicknamed Inspector Clouseau, who is the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies. According to National Geographic, the pink manta ray was first spotted back in 2015 by Ryan Jeffery. It is believed to be the only pink manta ray in the world, and it was sighted no more than 10 times in the last 5 years.

It was first sighted back in 2015 by Ryan Jeffery and it is believed to be seen less than 10 times in total

Image credits: Kristian Laine

Scientists believe that its pink skin is caused by a genetic mutation in its expression of melanin

Image credits: Kristian Laine

Laine spent roughly 30 minutes swimming together with the manta rays, taking pictures. The bubble-gum pink manta ray didn’t seem to mind his company as it was calm, keeping friendly eye-contact with the photographer. It almost seemed like it was enjoying the attention and smiling.

Kristian explained that it was a humbling experience and a stroke of extremely good luck: “I didn’t know the pink manta even existed, and as I mentioned, I just thought my strobes were playing up. It was only after the swim, onboard, that I have noticed it—I happened to look up a photo of the rare pink manta called Inspector Clouseau #900, and I realized that this manta had the same patterns like the one I interacted with and photographed. I immediately rushed back to check on my camera. You have no idea how far my jaw dropped when I realized what I had just witnessed and for so long and all by myself. It was a pretty special day for me.”

Scientists believe that the manta ray’s rose color is caused by a genetic abnormality. Initially, they thought it was due to some sort of skin infection or, possibly, its diet. However, back in 2016, a skin sample was taken from the manta ray and it was determined that it was a genetic mutation in its expression of melanin. Erythrism, a condition whereby the skin’s pigmentation turns reddish, is considered to be the most plausible explanation. It’s in the vein of other better-known genetic mutations like albinism (whereby the skin is pale white).

Here is a video of the rare pink manta ray posted on YouTube by Lady Elliot Island

Image credits: Lady Elliot Island

We asked Kristian what was the biggest challenge for him getting these glimpses into the pink manta ray’s life. He said this: “The biggest challenge was trying to hold my breath whilst freediving to about a 12-meter depth with a big buoyant camera rig and to time it at the same time to be in a good spot at the right moment. And, also, to calm my excitement about 7 mantas mating. It all happens so fast when you’re freediving.”

Kristian is currently planning international trips and some next-level photography. One of his aims is to take photos that have never been shown before to the general public.

Kristian Laine is a photographer and diver from Australia. He started with landscape photography, soon switching to animals for the extra challenge. After a back injury, he had to give up on surfing but sought to find a way to get back into the water. One day, he saw some captivating photos of sea turtles and knew he had to do aquatic photography. You can read up and discover more of Kristian’s photography on his website as well as on his Instagram page.

What are some rare animals that you have seen? Let us know in the comments below!