Innovative targeted feeding benefits flapnose rays

uShaka Sea World is achieving success with a targeted method of feeding rays in its care.

Eight flapnose rays (Rhinoptera javanica) introduced into the Rocky Reef exhibit in April 2013 were moved to the Turtle Lagoon exhibit in the aquarium at uShaka Sea World after a successful feeding programme using the target method.  

Flapnose rays 'fly' through the water at uShaka Sea World

The rays, listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, were initially brought into uShaka Sea World after being caught by fishermen off the Durban shore. They spent time in quarantine before being transferred to the Rocky Reef exhibit.

During their time in the Rocky Reef exhibit, they became accustomed to feeding from a "target" placed in their exhibit at a certain time in a specific place.

As aquarist William Mlambo explains, “Their recovery was a slow process, which started with staff dropping fish into the pool and allowing the rays to feed in their own time.

“Weeks later the rays were encouraged to take food from a staff member holding it out in the pool. This proved a challenge as the rays were initially reluctant to feed directly in this way.

“Jerry Ntombela, principal caregiver of Nandi the manta ray, designed a target from which food could be offered to the rays at a distance they felt comfortable with.

“As prawns proved to be their favourite diet, the target was covered in prawns and held out for the rays, who readily fed from it. The rays were fed five times daily at different positions in the pool, and when it became clear that the rays associated the target with food, regardless of where it was positioned or who was holding the target, different food sources were introduced. 

Getting hands-on with different ray species in the Ray Pool

“The target was slowly brought to the surface so the rays could associate hands holding the target with hands offering food.”

Perseverance with this feeding method has paid handsome dividends, and uShaka Sea World staff are proud of their achievement.

Although the rays appear to have settled well in their new exhibit, the real challenge lies in introducing them to a new feeding schedule. They share the exhibit with four turtles; shoals of oxeye tarpon (Megalops cyprinodes) and springer (Elops machnata), or skipjack, as they are known in the Eastern Cape; a colourful yellowtail rockcod (Sebastodes flavidus); and a variety of smaller fish such as convict surgeonfish (Acanthurus triostegus) and sand steenbras (Lithognathus mormyrus). 

Flapnose rays swim or ‘fly’ in close formation, stopping visitors in their tracks as they glide gracefully past exhibit windows. When next you visit the Aquarium, look out for them in the Turtle Lagoon exhibit.

Flapnose rays in formation

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