Jaw-Dropping Image Shows Enormous, One-of-a-Kind Pink Manta Ray Pictured Off Great Barrier Reef

Australia's Great Barrier Reef is home to a bright pink reef manta ray that stands out from his peers thanks to his bubblegum shade. The flashy ray was recently caught on camera by wildlife photographer Kristian Laine, who was diving near Lady Elliot Island in Queensland, Australia.

"It's pink manta kind of monday today," Laine wrote on his Instagram page on February 10, 2020. "The only pink manta in the whole world can be found cruising the shallow waters around lady elliot from time to time, around 8 times in 8 years i think is more like the odds."

At the time, the 11-foot ray was competing for the attention of a female alongside seven other rays, Laine told National Geographic.

Pink Reef Manta Ray
The elusive Inspector Clouseau was captured vying for a female's attention by photographer Kristian Laine. Kristian Laine/Instagram

Reef mantas usually come in three color schemes: black, white or black-and-white. The unusually rosy tint is likely the result of a rare genetic mutation called erythrism—the same phenomenon responsible for the pink grasshopper found in Texas resident Alison Barger's garden last week.

Erythrism can cause a reddish discoloration thanks to a pigmentation imbalance. It is typically the result of too much pheomelanin (red pigment) or not enough eumelanin (dark pigment), and in humans can cause red hair and freckles. In animals, it can turn fur (or skin, hair or eggshells) a rusty or strawberry-blonde color.

Red Leopard
A rare strawberry blonde leopard with erythrism. Snap2Art_RF/iStock

The pink ray—named Inspector Clouseau, after the inept and fictitious detective of the Pink Panther franchise—was first spotted in 2015 by dive instructor Ryan Jeffery.

"I've been diving out there for five years, few thousand dives here and never come across that on any of our manta rays before, so it was really something different for me," Jeffery told ABC at the time.

Unlike his namesake, Inspector Clouseau is an elusive creature—it is possible to count how many times he has been seen since on one hand. However, the research group Project Manta has been able to confirm that his bizarre coloring is not the result of diet, as it is for flamingos and a Brooklyn hive that turned red after bees discovered maraschino cherries. A skin biopsy taken by Amelia Armstrong, a Project Manta researcher, in 2016 confirmed that diet and infection were not a factor. Project Manta now suspects it is caused by genetic mutation. As far as scientists know, he is the only one of his kind.

"I had no idea there were pink mantas in the world, so I was confused and thought my strobes were broken or doing something weird," Laine told National Geographic. "My jaw dropped," he added.

Check out this beautiful photo of a leucistic reef manta ray feeding in the shallow waters of Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bay -...

Posted by Project Manta - The manta rays of Australia on Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Inspector Clouseau is not the only strangely pigmented ray. Project Manta recently shared a photo of one with leucism—a condition that causes the partial loss of pigmentation, creating the appearance of pale patches on the skin, hair, feathers or cuticles.

"Leucism is incredibly rare in manta rays, and the frequency of this trait is not well understood throughout the species distribution," Project Manta said.