Does a Photograph Show a Real Giant Manta Ray?

A photograph showing a giant manta ray caught in 1933 features the work of a taxidermist.

  • Published 23 April 2018

Claim

A photograph shows a giant manta ray, or devil fish, that was caught in 1933.

Rating

What's True

Captain A.L. Kahn caught a giant manta ray in 1933, and that specimen was captured in photographs.

What's False

A viral photograph of the giant sea creature shows a taxidermist's preservation that Kahn displayed at various events.

Origin

In 1933, a New York silk manufacturer named A.L. Kahn was vacationing in Florida when his anchor line accidentally snared a giant manta ray. After hours of struggle, a visit from the coast guard, and a few dozen blasts from a gun, Kahn managed to bring the enormous “devil fish” ashore. A photograph purportedly showing the results of this legendary fishing story can be viewed below:

Captain Kahn truly did catch a massive manta ray off the New Jersey coast in 1933. This image, however, shows a taxidermy version of the devil fish.

Kahn’s fishing tale was reported by several contemporary newspapers, including a fascinating account published in the 10 December 1933 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Sunday Magazine:

When a fish gets caught on a hook, it isn’t news. But when the hook happens to be the anchor of a boat and the fish weighs between five and six thousand pounds, then you have not only news but, what is rarer still, an unusual fish story that’s true. And with the fish itself at hand by way of proof.

It was Captain Al Kahn, fishing off the New Jersey coast with a party of friends on board his cabin cruiser who had the unique experience of an epic battle with a monster of the deep that had hooked itself on his anchor line. The result was a harrowing three-hour struggle to decide whether the fishing party was capturing the fish, or the fish was capturing the boat and its four occupants. But before the battle could be decided solely on its merits, a coast guard cutter came to the rescue of the distressed fisherman, and pumping twenty bullets into the giant devilish put an end to one of the most exciting and hari-raising adventures that ever an angler experienced.

“Fishing, says Kahn, who has some of the philosophic temperament characteristic of followers of Izaak Walton, “is a lot of fun when you catch the fish. And sometimes its fun even when you don’t . But when the fish catches you!” and with an eloquent “Phew!” and a shrug of the shoulders Kahn shook his head as if the rest of the sentence would be superfluous.

The monster was finally brought ashore, where it was found to weigh between five and six thousand pounds, and was twenty feet and five inches in width.

The newspaper also published a photograph of Kahn’s boat, the Miss Pensacola II, which was ill-suited for the unenviable task of hauling up a giant manta ray from the ocean’s depths:

As news of Kahn’s catch started to spread, crowds began lining up to get a glimpse of the enormous creature. Kahn charged 10 cents per head to view the manta ray and raised enough money in the first few days to buy the local fire department a new $3,000 fire truck. The devil fish was then sent to a taxidermist so that it could be preserved for exhibition at various events:

The fish attracted such a steady stream of visitors to Brielle, that Kahn had it put on exhibition (and started charging) a ten-cent admission with the proceeds going to the local fire department. In three days enough money was realized to (?) the fire department to buy a new $3000 fire truck. After that the fish was turned over to a taxidermist, and is now on exhibition in New York City. The profits of any will be given by Kahn to (some) charity, and the fish he plans eventually to give to some museum of natural history.

The viral photograph displayed above shows the mounted manta ray, and a second image of Kahn with his taxidermied catch published in the Honolulu Advertiser Journal noted it as such:

This great manta, or devil fish, weighed over 5,000 pounds when caught off Deal, N.J. after it became entangled in the anchor rope of Captain A.L. Kahn’s fishing boat. It has been mounted for exhibition in New York. Captain Kahn is seen holding a baby devil fish born after the parent’s death.

We’re a little skeptical about the reported size of this manta ray (20 feet wide and more than 5,000 pounds), but those numbers are within the realm of possibility. The Florida Museum reports that the manta ray has an average width of about 22 feet, and although these specimens typically max out at around 3,000 pounds, at least one other report references a 5,000-pound devil fish being pulled from the sea:

When Captain Jay Gould and his party crawled into port the other day with their catch, a crowd gathered to see something at which even this thrill-hardend town (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) could exclaim, and drug stores sold out their supplies of film to persons eager to photograph it. For Gould’s fishing schooner had brought in a devil fish so gigantic that a crane owned by the city was required to lift it from the water. The giant ray, it was estimated, weighed more than 5000 pounds, and it had been overcome only after a fight of three and a half hours, in which it dragged the cruiser five miles against the pull of the boat’s 20-horsepower engine. It was the prize devil fish of the last 10 years, and perhaps the largest ever taken on the coast.