Sponsored by Sendik’s Food Markets
This summer, the Milwaukee County Zoo is excited to welcome back one of its most popular exhibits – Sting Ray & Shark Bay, sponsored by Sendik’s Food Markets! The interactive exhibit officially splashes into the Zoo May 24, and allows guests to dip their hands into a saltwater pool displaying a variety of harmless species of sting rays and sharks.
The exhibit features cownose rays, known for foreheads resembling a cow’s nose, and diamond-shaped southern rays. The southern rays are slightly smaller in size, and often bury themselves in the sand, with only their eyes and spiracles (opening behind the eyes) visible. Sting rays are typically bottom feeders that eat crustaceans, mollusks and other invertebrates in their natural environment. Notice the rays seem to almost “fly,” as they glide through the water.
While the ray’s eyes peer out from the top of its body, its mouth, nostrils and gills are on its underbelly. Consequently, scientists think their eyes don’t play a major role in hunting.
There is no harm in touching these animals, as each sting ray barb is carefully trimmed from their tails. The painless trimming is similar to cutting human fingernails.
The exhibit is safe for all ages, and the landscaped pool features a waterfall and wide ledges for young children to lean against when touching rays.
White-spotted bamboo shark
The 78-degree pool also contains white-spotted bamboo sharks and bonnethead sharks, known for their bonnet shaped heads. You’ll easily notice these are not great white sharks, as these fish are only about 3-feet-long. Notice the stout body and tail of the bamboo shark, with a rounded snout and two fleshy lip appendages. Also, look for horseshoe crabs in the exhibit; the rather large crustaceans contrast sharply with the fish.
Don’t be too surprised if you see a smaller pool in the center of the larger, 14,000-gallon pool because this means the sting rays had baby rays! When pups are born, they’re self-sufficient, but in the beginning they must remain in shallow waters. When they reach 2-weeks-of age, these rays will make the transfer to the large pool to join their adult companions.
The best way to touch both the rays and sharks is by keeping your hand still, and letting the animals come to your hand. Often, a cup of food can help, and visitors can purchase food for the sting rays (fed several times during the day). Sting rays eat a mixture of cut capelin, mackerel, shrimp and squid. (Exhibit staff feed the sharks from special poles during the day.)
This tropical exhibit runs through September 1, and is located in the Otto Borchert Family Special Exhibits Building. Admission cost is $2 per person and sting ray food can be purchased for $1. For more information, call the Zoo’s Public Affairs office at 414.256.5411.