Scripps Institution of OceanographyIn 1980 I was admitted as a Ph.D. student in marine biology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego.

My thesis work, funded by a grant from San Diego’s Foundation for Ocean Research, focused on the ecology, life history, and taxonomy of manta rays (family Mobulidae).

Richard Rosenblatt was my major professor; Theodore Bullock, Paul Dayton, William Evans and Walter Munk were also on my thesis committee.

sio colelction

Examining a newborn whale shark from the collections of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography


In 1983 I stationed at fishing camps in southern Baja California, Mexico, to collect study specimens and data.

In the process I proceeded to the revision of the systematics of the genus Mobula, and described a new species, Mobula munkiana Notarbartolo di Sciara 1987, which I named after Walter Munk.


The type specimens of M. munkiana are deposited in the collections of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California. I defended my thesis in January 1985.


Mobula munkiana

Mobula munkiana. I discovered and described this devil ray, a small relative of the giant manta, in the Gulf of California in 1983, while collecting data for my doctoral degree at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I named the species in honour of Walter Munk, oceanographer extraordinary, and friend.

These are the devil rays which have become famous because of their extraordinary aggregations of thousands of individuals, and their spectacular collective somersaults. A sample of this behaviour can be seen here.