Pregnant Shark Ray, Sweet Pea, moved to Offsite Animal Health Facility

Historic shark ray pregnancies are progressing as expected.

NEWPORT, Ky.Newport Aquarium confirmed Tuesday, that its pregnant shark ray, Sweet Pea, has been moved to the aquarium’s offsite animal health facility for further monitoring as her due date approaches.

“The transfer went smoothly, thanks to the dedicated team of biologists we have here at the aquarium,” said Mark Dvornak, Newport Aquarium’s General Curator. “The husbandry team continues its diligent work of preparing for the arrival of the shark ray pups.”

On Oct. 14, Newport Aquarium announced both its female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine were pregnant– the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world.

Here’s a short video of Sweet Pea swimming in Newport Aquarium’s Surrounded by Sharks exhibit from 2007 when the Shark Ray Breeding Program began.

Sunshine, the aquarium’s second pregnant shark ray, can still be found in the Surrounded By Sharks exhibit, where she is expected to remain until closer to giving birth.

Newport Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Peter Hill, who first confirmed Sweet Pea and Sunshine’s were pregnant estimates their due dates are within two to three months, with Sweet Pea expected to deliver first. Watch Sunshine’s ultrasound here.

Nearly seven years after Newport Aquarium established the 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.

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Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

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One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444
www.newportaquarium.com

Newport Aquarium confirms its two female shark rays are pregnant

First three cases of shark ray breeding under professional care have occurred at Newport Aquarium

NEWPORT, Ky.Newport Aquarium announced Wednesday its two female shark rays, Sweet Pea and Sunshine, are both pregnant – the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world.

“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.”

Newport Aquarium animal husbandry staff confirmed the pregnancies after performing ultrasounds for Sweet Pea on Oct. 1 and Sunshine on Oct. 8. Newport Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Peter Hill, who conducted the ultrasounds, estimates Sweet Pea and Sunshine’s due dates are within two to three months, with Sweet Pea expected to deliver first. The equipment used to conduct the ultrasounds was on loan from the FETCH-LAB at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

Sunshine ultrasound

Newport Aquarium staff perform an ultrasound on Sunshine the shark ray on Oct. 8, 2015.

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 public can still see Sweet Pea and Sunshine in the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit now through a to-be-determined time closer to their due dates, at which point they will be moved to Newport Aquarium’s offsite animal health facility in Northern Kentucky.

Sunshin_Ultrasound_NAQ-FetchLab_measurement

A screenshot from Sunshine’s ultrasound performed on Oct. 8, 2015, reveals a developing shark ray pup, measuring 10.51 centimeters (4.14 inches).

Newport 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 winter 2013 when Sunshine moved from the Coral Reef tunnel to Surrounded by Sharks and a second male shark ray named Spike also was introduced to the Aquarium’s signature exhibit.

Nearly seven years after Newport Aquarium established the 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.

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Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.

Stay Hooked In: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Google+ | YouTube | WordPress

One Aquarium Way | Newport, KY 41071 | 859-261-7444
www.newportaquarium.com

She’s Pregnant! Sweet Pea Becomes First Confirmed Shark Ray In Captivity to Breed in the World

Sweet Pea is the first confirmed shark ray to become pregnant outside the wild.

Sweet Pea is the first confirmed shark ray to become pregnant outside the wild.

NEWPORT, Ky. – Newport Aquarium announced Saturday that Sweet Pea, the first shark ray to go on display in the Western Hemisphere, is pregnant – marking the first time a shark ray has become pregnant while in a controlled environment.

This historical achievement was made possible through Newport Aquarium’s revolutionary Shark Ray Breeding Program. Established in February 2007 with the introduction of an extremely rare male shark ray named Scooter, the Shark Ray Breeding Program (SRBP) is not just about reproducing this prehistoric looking fish.

“The goals of the program go beyond breeding them. We’re striving to learn as much as we can about shark rays,” said Newport Aquarium Animal Health Specialist Jolene Hanna, who has been studying hormones in the shark rays since the program’s inception.

Shark rays (Rhina ancylostoma) are rare, distinctive fish from the Indo-Pacific region. Feeding mostly on crabs and shellfish, they live near the coast and offshore reefs in tropical waters. Very little is known about this species that receives its name because their wide head area resembles a ray, while the rest of their body resembles a shark.

“We are thrilled with this development,” said Mark Dvornak, general curator at Newport Aquarium and SRBP lead biologist. “The pregnancy is a testament to the hard work and dedication our husbandry and veterinary teams have given these many years to better understand these remarkable animals. Newport Aquarium is a leader in the husbandry of shark rays and we are often contacted by aquariums and zoos from around the world, seeking help with their shark rays.”

After an ultrasound performed by Dr. Peter Hill and the Newport Aquarium husbandry staff confirmed her pregnancy on Jan. 8, Sweet Pea was taken off display and moved to an offsite facility in Northern Kentucky, where she will remain for the duration of the gestation period. The ultrasound equipment was on loan from the University of Cincinnati FETCHLAB in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

An ultrasound performed on Jan. 8 confirmed Sweet Pea's pregnancy.

An ultrasound performed on Jan. 8 confirmed Sweet Pea’s pregnancy.

Dr. Hill speculates that Sweet Pea could give birth to around a half a dozen pups. However, Newport Aquarium biologists are tempering expectations due to the unchartered territory of shark ray reproduction.

“As excited as we are, there’s still a lot of work to do. There are many challenges and unknowns to overcome,” said Scott Brehob, who along with Jen Hazeres are the two biologists that take care of the shark rays on a daily basis.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) lists shark rays as vulnerable to extinction on its Red List of Threatened Animals. Threats to shark rays include habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing and the use of their fins for products including shark fin soup.

Upon Sweet Pea’s arrival at Newport Aquarium in June 2005, there were just five institutions in the world with shark rays. Today that number has increased to 25 institutions.

Currently, Newport Aquarium has four total shark rays after the introduction of a second female shark ray, Sunshine, in 2007 and a second male, Spike, in 2013.

For the most up-to-date information on Sweet Pea’s pregnancy visit www.NewportAquarium.com, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.