NEWPORT, Ky. — Get the nursery ready. The Newport Aquarium reports its two female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine, are both pregnant.
“This is an exciting next step in realizing the goals of our Shark Ray Breeding Program,” said Eric Rose, executive director at Newport Aquarium. “Still, pregnancy is not without risk, so we are cautiously optimistic that both Sweet Pea and Sunshine will give birth to healthy shark ray pups. Newport Aquarium is dedicated to the conservation of these threatened animals and we remain committed to sharing the shark rays’ story of survival.”
The pregnancies are only the second and third documented cases of shark rays breeding under professional animal care in the world, according to the aquarium. Those pregnancies were confirmed by ultrasound on Oct. 1 for Sweet Pea and Oct. 8 for Sunshine by aquarium veterinarian Dr. Peter Hill.
Shark rays are a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, one level from endangered. Threats to shark rays include habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and the use of their fins for products, including shark fin soup.
“With the world’s shark ray population depleting at a faster rate than it’s being replaced, the Shark Ray Breeding Program is important because it helps us better understand the life cycle of shark rays and closely related species,” said Ric Urban, chief conservation officer at Newport Aquarium. “The knowledge gained from this program will be valuable information for the sustainability of shark ray populations in the wild.”
The due date for both shark rays has yet to be determined. Visitors to the aquarium can see the expecting mothers at the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit now.
The aquarium established the world’s first shark ray breeding Program on Feb. 14, 2007, when a male shark ray named Scooter was introduced to the 385,000-gallon Surrounded by Sharks exhibit. The breeding program expanded in 2013 when Sunshine moved from the Coral Reef tunnel to Surrounded by Sharks and a second male shark ray named Spike also was introduced.
Nearly seven years after Newport Aquarium established its shark ray breeding program, Sweet Pea became the first shark ray to give birth while under professional animal care on Jan. 24, 2014.
For more information on Newport Aquarium, visit NewportAquarium.com or call toll free 800-406-FISH (3474). Connect with Newport Aquarium on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to its blog, for the most up-to-date news regarding the shark ray pregnancies.