Birth marks major milestone for zoos and aquariums worldwide
A spotted eagle ray pup is flourishing off-exhibit at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Born in April, the male pup marks a significant milestone for the Tacoma zoo and for zoos and aquariums worldwide.
Spotted eagle rays are listed as vulnerable and are included in the Species Survival Plan® through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“Eagle ray reproduction in aquariums is exceedingly rare, so we’re delighted to care for this exceptional pup,” said Aquarium Curator Chris Spaulding. “Our veterinarians and animal care teams are closely monitoring him to ensure he remains healthy and continues to thrive.”
The newborn ray currently weighs about 2 pounds and boasts a one-foot wingspan. Adult rays can sometimes reach 400 pounds, with a wingspan of 11 feet.
Eagle rays are self-sufficient at birth, said Spaulding. The ray pup is already eating solid foods like shrimp, clam, and squid.
“We hand-feed the pup three times a day,” said Melissa Bishop, one of several aquarists who care for the newborn ray. “Eagle rays are bottom feeders, using their noses to smell and find food.”
Born in the aquarium’s Baja Bay habitat, the newborn ray is now living off-exhibit in a special pool so zoo staff can closely monitor his diet, behavior and well-being.
“We want to make sure he gets enough food without competition from our hammerhead sharks, fish, and other eagle rays,” said Bishop.
When the pup grows bigger, aquarists will teach him how to “target feed.” Aquarists use targets in different shapes and colors on long poles, rewarding each animal with food when it comes to its specific target.
“Target training helps us ensure that every animal gets exactly the right diet, vitamins, and necessary medications,” said Bishop.
For now though, this pup is receiving one-on-one attention as his care team focuses on ensuring that he continues to flourish.
“Eagle rays, like so many ocean dwelling animals, are vulnerable and every pup is vital to ensuring the long-term protection of the species,” said Spaulding.