Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 21, 2014

Sweet Pea plus 6

Newport shark ray pregnant

The Independent

ASHLAND — Sweet Pea is pregnant and that’s big news at the Newport Aquarium across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. Sweet Pea is a reminder that in addition to being a tourist attraction, the large aquarium is actively involved in preserving threatened species.

Sweet Pea is a shark ray expecting six little shark rays, which are called pups. Aquarium officials say this marks the first time a shark ray has become pregnant in captivity, which makes the news even more important to the scientific world.

Sweet Pea was the first shark ray to go on display in the Western Hemisphere. She arrived at the Newport Aquarium in 2005 as an adolescent. Two years later, the addition of a rare male shark ray named Scooter resulted in the establishment of the institution’s Shark Ray Breeding Program.

The aquarium’s general curator, Mark Dvornak, said that after the pups are born, some will go on display in Newport while others will likely go to other aquariums and zoos.

“We are thrilled with this development,” Dvornak said. “The pregnancy is a testament to the hard work and dedication our husbandry and veterinary teams have given these many years to better understand these remarkable animals.”

Dvornak said Newport  little is known about the prehistoric-looking shark rays typically found in tropical waters such as the Indian Ocean, the western Pacific and the Red Sea. Because of their wide heads and fins, shark rays appear to be a cross between a sting ray and a shark.

Shark rays often are slaughtered for their large fins, which has led to them being listed as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Other threats include pollution, destruction of their habitats and overfishing.

A few weeks ago, the biologists who care for the Newport Aquarium’s four shark rays on a daily basis noticed Sweet Pea was putting on weight. The pregnancy of the 200-plus-pound shark ray was confirmed on Jan. 8 .

 Although Sweet Pea won’t be on display in the near future, visitors can still see three other shark rays. However, the really exciting news concerns the shark ray visitors can’t see.  Here’s hoping the best for Sweet Pea.