Though winter weather surrounds Eastern Iowa, spring is in the air at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. The institution is excited to announce the recent birth of three new Yellow Stingray babies and the laying of Coral Catshark eggs.
“This is an exciting development for the River Museum,” said Andy Allison, Director of Living Collections. “Sharks and rays play different but vital roles in our ocean ecosystems and more than 50 percent of shark and ray species that have been fully assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are Threatened or Near Threatened with extinction.”
The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA) Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program leverages the collective expertise within AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and their massive audiences to save species through protection of threatened animals, establishing recovery plans, collaborating with AZA member institutions, implementing strategic conservation and stakeholder engagement activities, and measuring and reporting conservation progress. “As an accredited member of AZA, we are committed to sharing these species’ incredible stories and doing our part in educating visitors on the important role of sharks and rays,” said Allison.
This is not the institution’s first time caring for juvenile stingrays; however, it is the first time the institution has cared for shark eggs. “Sharks and rays, in general, are threatened in the wild by overfishing and unsustainable fishing practices. An estimated 100 million sharks are killed in commercial fisheries every year, many for the shark fin soup industry,” Allison went on to say. “Most sharks and rays only produce a handful of pups each year, making any potential recovery a slow process. We are hopeful the young stingrays and sharks in our care continue to develop and grow into thriving adults, so they too can help educate students and visitors.”
The Coral Catshark and the Yellow Stingray help explain the important roles that predators and foragers play in managing a balanced ocean ecosystem. “I educate groups through our mobile touch tank experience,” said Jennifer Drayna, Outreach Coordinator. “As the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, it is important that we use these species to help groups understand the interconnectivity of our waterways. That includes the impacts our decisions along rivers and within watersheds make on coastal ecosystems where they live.”
Visitors to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium can view shark egg cases and a baby Yellow Stingray in the Conservation Lab. Keeper chats regarding the sharks and rays will take place in the Down in the Delta exhibit near the stingray touch tank at 2 p.m. each Saturday through February. Additionally, the shark mobile touch tank will be placed near the Backwater Marsh for shark touch experiences Saturday, Feb. 16 and Saturday, March 2 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information on outreach programs and stingray experiences, visit this link.