Mantas are the world's largest rays, reaching 7m in diameter [Reuters]

Pictures of a giant baby manta ray, believed to be the first ever born in captivity, has been shown to the public from an aquarium in Japan.

Viewers saw the 1.9m new arrival being squeezed out of her mother's body rolled up like a carpet, before unfurling her fins and flitting gracefully across the tank at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in the south of Japan.

"My heart was heavy at first because I thought it had been still-born, but we were so relieved when she finally started swimming around," the aquarium's manta ray breeder, Minoru Toda, said.

The birth on Saturday followed a pregnancy of more than a year after the 4.2 metre mother ray mated with a male manta also kept at the aquarium.

Aquarium workers will have to rely on intuition when feeding and caring for the new baby, because scientific knowledge about their development is limited, Toda said.

The birth will provide an excellent opportunity for researchers to discover more about the world's largest rays, which feed on plankton and small fish and can grow up to almost seven metres in diameter.

Source: Agencies