Pregnancy of captive Shark ray is a world first!

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A US aquarium has announced that one of its Shark rays is expecting up to six pups - marking the first time one of these rare, distinctive rays has become pregnant in captivity.

Sweet Pea is one of four Shark rays resident at Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. An ultrasound confirmed her pregnancy and she has now been moved to an offsite facility where she will remain for the duration of the gestation period.

Sweet Pea was the first Shark ray to go on display in the Western Hemisphere on her arrival at the aquarium in 2005. Two years later, an extremely rare male Shark ray named Scooter was introduced, resulting in the aquarium's revolutionary Shark Ray Breeding Program (SRBP).

"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."

However, biologists at the aquarium 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 rays on a daily basis.

Shark rays (Rhina ancylostoma) — also known as Bowmouth guitarfish — are found in the Indo-Pacific region. Feeding mostly on crabs and shellfish, they live near the coast and offshore reefs in tropical waters. Their common name arises from the fact that they have a wide head area resembling a ray, while the rest of the body is shark-like.

Shark rays are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. Threats 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.

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