Birth of thorntail ray pups delights uShaka Sea World visitors

  • 31 January 2013 | Ann Kunz | Category: Species

A thorntail ray (Dasyatis thetidis) pup lies on top of a larger honeycomb ray

There was a special bonus in store for visitors to uShaka Sea World on Saturday 26 January 2013, when a thorntail ray in the Open Ocean Exhibit gave birth to four pups.

The first pup was spotted just before 9.30am and as news of its arrival spread quickly through the aquarium, staff and visitors gathered at the exhibit window in anticipation of the arrival of more young rays.

Thorntail rays (Dasyatis thetidis) are born alive as miniature replicas of their parents. Adult thorntails have a disc width of around two metres, while the pup’s disc width is approximately 30cm.

Diver Jerry Ntombela lifts the ray out of the exhibit

The audience did not have to wait long for the next three pups to emerge, swim around for a short while and then settle down on the exhibit floor.

As is the case with almost all marine creatures, thorntail pups are independent from birth and have sufficient reserves to go without eating for a number of days as they adjust to their new environment. Avoiding predation is high on their list of priorities, as they make an appealing snack for large predators.

During November last year uShaka Sea World aquarists noticed the mom gaining weight around her belly and changing shape as the days passed. The gestation period for thorntail rays is 9 to 12 months but as we had not witnessed the mating, we were unable to accurately predict the time she would give birth.

Excited uShaka Sea World staff with the new arrivals, from left: Carrie Williams, Gareth Leisegang, Jerry Ntombela and Leanne Botha

uShaka Sea World divers removed all four pups from the exhibit by gently lifting them out of the water and into an awaiting transport vehicle. They were taken to the aquarium’s quarantine facility where they were weighed, measured and given an overall health check. Both males and one of the female pups were declared healthy and fit enough to survive the ocean’s challenges, while the smaller female will remain at uShaka Sea World for a while longer.

The whole process, from the time they were born to the time they were lowered into the warm ocean off Vetch’s reef, took less than three hours.

Thorntail rays are found inshore and offshore along the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, at depths of up to 400 metres.

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