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Sharks and Rays Arrive

Aug. 16, 2017

It had all the complex choreography of a ballet.

Last Friday, four scalloped hammerhead sharks and two spotted eagle rays arrived at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. They’d been flown in specially-built tanks all the way from Hawaii. They’d been carefully trucked down from SeaTac airport.

And then, as dusk settled over the zoo, two dozen zoo staff members took their places for a carefully-rehearsed operation that involved filling the travel tanks with local water, scooping up the baby animals in custom-designed containers and rushing them individually into their new tanks.

aquarists shipping ray from tank“Everyone knew exactly what they had to do,” said staff biologist Melissa Bishop, who’ll be primarily responsible for the baby sharks and rays while they acclimate to their new home and wait for the new aquarium to be built.

The rays and sharks will be the stars of the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit, an enormous display with a curved overhead window that will let visitors walk right up to the swimming animals.
Meanwhile, they’ll get all the constant attention of any other baby. Via side viewing windows, cell phone monitoring and an elaborate touchscreen tank control system, Bishop and her crew will care for the two-foot-long animals, making sure they’re happy and healthy.

So far, so good.

“I’m very pleased with their overall condition,” says Dr. Karen Wolf, head veterinarian. “They are eating well and showing natural swimming patterns.”

“I’m starting to learn all about their little quirks and personalities,” says Bishop. “The female eagle ray is much more cautious and stubborn, while the male was eating from my hand on his first day here.”

Melissa looking at ray in tankJust as important, however, is the role that these swiftly-swimming creatures will play for the humans that come to see them.

Although they were taken under strict permit from a sustainable pupping ground in Oahu, scalloped hammerheads are endangered elsewhere – including in the Gulf of California which their exhibit will depict. The zoo’s sharks – plus the rays and turtles – will be ambassadors for their species, inspiring people to take action for their conservation in the wild.

“The more I learn about hammerhead sharks, the more fascinated I am by them,” Bishop says. “Seeing them in person makes me even more excited to share them with everyone in the new aquarium.”

– Rosemary Ponnekanti, PDZA