Thursday, February 13, 2014
Ripley’s Aquarium isn’t sending out birth announcements, but it is awaiting the births — likely in May — of stingrays from three of its southern rays.
The pregnancies were discovered Feb. 6 during semiannual ultrasounds of the aquarium’s southern and eagle rays.
This time, though, the checks were different. Students from Horry Georgetown Technical College’s sonogram program got a first hand look at another facet of ultrasound work — on animals rather than humans.
“We have the same setup for humans,” said Marcy Maglott, watching as Dr. Bob George and his team, that on this morning included Caryn Atkins, the instructor who leads the college program, performed the imaging.
The rays, like humans, weren’t exactly excited about being disturbed from their routine.
The males were separated from the females, and a team of wetsuit-clad Ripley employees netted the rays, one by one and brought them to the shallow side of the pool station where Atkins located the animal’s uterus with the wand and it was projected onto the screen wrapped in plastic to protect it from the water.
“There. There’s a pup,” said George, as the students drew near for a closer view.
It’s not unusual for a southern ray to give birth to three or four pups at a time, he explained. “In the wild, they’re always pregnant.”
In captivity, they become pregnant relatively easily, which is why the officials at Ripley’s keep a close eye on them, occasionally spaying the females and trying to keep the males old enough to impregnate the females separate.
Aquarium officials aren’t always successful and sometimes nature wins.
One ray earned the nickname fertile Myrtle because she gave birth to more than the average number of pups.
And then there was Little Boy, who the staff thought was too young to do the deed. Not so, he was credited with impregnating three different rays.
Little Boy and Myrtle were southern, which have little difficulty in breeding in their pools, such as the aquarium’s Ray Bay.
Not so the eagle rays, which have a difficult time breeding in captivity, George said.
While he was pleased to find the pups in the uterus, he also was happy to find that one of the rays he was checking for problems seemed better during this round of testing.
While the sonograms are done twice a year, George’s trips to Myrtle Beach are monthly, and he’ll be keeping an eye on the rays and other animals at the aquarium, as will the staff.
“Rays aren’t very maternal,” he said, noting that they are likely to eat their young.
That’s why the staff puts the newborn rays into a separate tank, where they will live until they are old enough to hold their own in the exhibit or are sent on to other aquariums.