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Aquarium's Shark Ray, Sweet Pea, Gives Birth To Nine Pups

Newport Aquarium
One of the shark ray pups is weighed.

There are nine new additions at the Newport Aquarium. Shark Ray "Sweet Pea" gave birth to the pups Tuesday evening at the aquarium's off-site animal health facility.

In a statement the aquarium says Sweet Pea had six female and three male pups. Their weight ranged in age from two pounds to 2.4 pounds, while their length ranged from 18 to 22 inches.

Credit Provided / Newport Aquarium
A shark ray pup swims around its enclosure.

"All indications are that this was a successful birth," said Mark Dvornak, Newport Aquarium's general curator. "We are optimistic, but we know that challenging days lay ahead, as the animal care team's focus shifts closely to attending to and monitoring the shark ray pups."

Chief Conservation Officer Ric Urban says, "We're scientists, we're learning things every day, so we're a little bit cautious. We're just taking it day by day and just learning as much as we can about what's going on with shark rays and shark ray biology."

The Aquarium says another shark ray, "Sunshine," is no longer pregnant. Her pregnancy was announced around the same time as Sweet Pea's. Though it's uncertain what happened, the veterinary team says it appears her body either expelled or reabsorbed the fetuses. This is not uncommon with similar species.

The Aquarium says Sweet Pea and Sunshine are "the second and third documented cases of shark ray breeding under professional animal care in the world." Sweet Pea is doing well and will return to the Surrounded by Sharks exhibit when the veterinarian team approves her move.

Sweet Pea was the first shark ray to go on display in the Western Hemisphere. The Aquarium announced the pregnancy shortly before she gave birth to seven pups in January 2014. As WVXU reported, All seven died.

The executive director of the Newport Aquarium is optimistic that Sweet Pea will give birth again and when it happens he's confident his team will have more information about caring for shark ray pups. Eric Rose says the problem was they were not able to digest their food, and consequently did not put on weight. This was despite efforts to tube feed them with a paste of shrimp, fish and vitamins. Gestation for shark rays is about a year. The Newport Aquarium didn't find out Sweet Pea was pregnant until a few weeks before she gave birth. The team mobilized trying to collect live and artificial food from all over the region. Rose says, " while we were somewhat prepared, we were caught a little off guard because we didn't expect this to happen."

Credit Provided / Newport Aquarium
Sweet Pea