Thorntail stingray pups born

Earlier this year five thorntail stingray pups were born in the large Open Ocean exhibit at uShaka Sea World – two female and three male. Aquarium staff had been trying to predict when this would happen, after noticing that a female ray was pregnant.

Shortly after birth the five pups were moved to their own, specially designed back-of-house pool to allow staff to closely monitor their health and eating patterns. They all appeared in good shape and were initially fed crustaceans and fish three times a day, but have since progressed to being fed once daily.

The thorntail stingray (Dasyatis thetidis) gives birth to live young. Embryos initially feed on egg yolk, but later receive nourishment via the absorption of uterine "milk". The pups are born after a gestation period of nine to 12 months.

Staff witnessing the birth of these enfolded little miniatures were in absolute awe as they unwrapped themselves and started confidently swimming around the exhibit, fully able to fend for themselves without parental care.

Births such as this one are a wonderful affirmation for uShaka Sea World staff, as it is a clear indication that the creatures in their care are healthy and displaying typical social behaviour, such as reproduction.

The pups spend most of their day resting and slowly swimming around the pool, but have quickly learned to associate the aquarists with food. At feeding times they respond by swimming towards the aquarist, to see if he is holding out anything worth eating.

uShaka Sea World Aquarist Riaan Boshoff feeds the rays

All the pups are eating well and have healthy appetites, which means the public will soon be able to see them in the main exhibit.

The 40cm-wide babies are miniature replicas of the adults, with a row of large, spear-like thorns in front of the sting, as well as smaller, conical thorns behind the sting, covering the tail to the tip. The only exception is that each pup was born with a small, white round end to the barb, a feature that is designed to protect the mother during the birthing process.

Both the pups’ parents, which are about 1.6m wide, were brought into uShaka Sea World by fishermen who had caught them off the Durban shore a few years ago. Along the Southern African coastline these seldom-seen, bottom-dwelling rays are found on offshore banks at a depth of 180 to 480m.

Curious and unaggressive, this stingray may raise its tail similar to that of a scorpion when approached by predators and if startled or harassed, can inflict a serious wound with its sting.

How can we conserve thorntail stingrays?

These stingrays are generally taken as by-catch during inshore trawl, longline and purse-seine fisheries, as well as by recreational line fishers.

Think twice about buying fish on the SASSI orange, red or black list. Double-check your fish purchases by downloading the free mobile app here.

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