Jack Whilton, an underwater photographer and guide, was diving with a group at Ningaloo Reef when Freckles approached. He watched Freckles come up to him over and over again -- and then the group noticed she had three fish hooks stuck under her eye.
The footage was taken in May but went viral in mid-July after a marketing company shared a video about the encounter for Western Australia Tourism.
"You could see she was trusting us because she was unrolling and showing us the hooks," Whilton said in the video.
That's when Whilton grabbed some pliers, fellow diver Monty Halls wrote on Facebook.
"Jake went down again and again and again," Halls said in the video, "and the animal didn't move away because I think the manta knew that he was trying to get the hooks out."
After many attempts, Whilton finally got the fish hooks out and swam down one last time to say goodbye. Halls wrote that Freckles stuck around afterward "for a wee while."
"It was an extraordinary half hour or so," Halls wrote, "and such a clear illustration that these animals have intelligence, trust, and a strong association with folks who treat them with respect."
Manta rays have "giant brains" that are exceptional at learning, problem-solving and communicating, according to ocean advocacy group Oceana.
"In the water with these guys, you get the sense there's a lot more going on in there than your average fish," ecologist Josh Stewart told the organization. "Mantas will go out of their way to come interact. They're much more like a mammal."