BREAKING NEWS: The Snowbird Stingrays Have Arrived in Apollo Beach!
The Stingray Touch Experience at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach is now complete and the snowbird stingrays moved in Monday.
Here’s the story:
The new exhibit is a massive 10,000 gallon habitat and is now the winter home for the 12 cow nose sting rays and four horse shoe crabs that call the Tropicana Field’s touch experience home in summer.
“The timing is perfect,” Debbi Stone, VP of Education for The Florida Aquarium, says. “The Florida Aquarium manages the touch tank at Tropicana Field for the Rays baseball team. We’d been looking for a ‘winter home’ for the stingrays when an opportunity presented itself. As it turns out, TECO leadership had been looking for ways to offer even more educational and interactive experiences at the Manatee Viewing Center, and since prime visitor season at Manatee Viewing Center is directly opposite baseball season, building a winter home, the stingray habitat, was the perfect win-win!, Debbi adds.”
Touch Tank: A Huge Undertaking
Of course, building a massive 10,000 gallon stingray exhibit is not as simple as installing a backyard pool. The process has been in planning and creation for well over a year. Obtaining permits, alone, has taken months.
Completing the exhibit was just the first step. Since completion The Florida Aquarium experts have been busy preparing the habitat for its new residents. The environment and water must be in optimal conditions before it can be home for the animals. Creating a suitable environment takes special filters and special sand, which mimics their natural habitat, and is laden with beneficial micro-organisms that break down harmful bacteria and other bad substances that can negatively impact water quality.
Monday, December 12, 2016. Moving 12 stingrays from the Tropicana Field touch exhibit to their new digs at the Manatee Viewing Center is not as big of a deal as you might think. At least, the team of experts from The Florid Aquarium sure made it look easy.
Mike Terrell, Director of Husbandry at The Florida Aquarium, coordinated the physical move with the animals, with a team of colleagues, while Dr. Ari Fustukjian, Assistant Veterinarian at The Florida Aquarium, remained with the animals at the MVC to ensure they settled in their new environment, closely monitoring the animals and the water.
Moved in two batches, the first stingrays arrived Monday morning, while the second group arrived late afternoon. They arrived, well, by rental truck – the same way we all move. The animals are loaded in special mobile tanks, filled with water from their Tropicana Field exhibit. The tanks were secured and covered during the journey from St. Petersburg to Apollo Beach to prevent movement and to keep the animals safely in their tanks.
Once the stingrays arrived at the Manatee Viewing Center large rolling containers were filled halfway with the water the stingrays came in and half with water from their new home, all meant to acclimate the animals smoothly.
One by one the stingrays were then placed in the rolling containers and wheeled to the new touch exhibit. With a large net, two people scooped up each stingray and gently placed it in the new exhibit. Moving never looked so easy.
Interacting with the Stingrays
Once the stingrays are settled in their new home visitors will be able to walk right alongside the tank and touch the rays. For now the rays are being given time to get familiar with their new surroundings. While visitors won’t be able to touch the rays for a few days, or so, they can see the animals from the new boardwalk above the exhibit.
The rays’ barbs have been trimmed as a precaution and there is no age restriction on visitors who want to touch the rays. Visitors are asked to touch the rays using two fingers. This prevents poking the animals.
Once every hour the rays will have a 15-minute break without visitors, so they can eat and rest.
Volunteers will also use plush sting rays to show visitors what the animals look like up close, including their barbs and teeth plates.
Looking for More Volunteers
Dr. Ari Fustukjian, Assistant Veterinarian at The Florida Aquarium, will oversee the care of the rays at the MVC.
Day-to-day management of the exhibit will be handled by one full-time and one part-time staff person from The Florida Aquarium as well as Florida Aquarium volunteers.
Volunteers are undergoing special training so they understand touch protocols, can interact with visitors, answer questions and educate visitors about the rays.
If you’re interested in volunteering with the sting rays at the Manatee Viewing Center and/or at The Florida Aquarium, please contact Rebecca Hughes, Education Volunteer Coordinator at The Florida Aquarium. Rebecca can be reached at RHughes@flaquarium.org or (813) 367-4075.
Bonus Section: Year-Round Eco Destination
The arrival of the snowbird sting rays is another step to making the area from the Manatee Viewing Center all the way to the south, home of the Florida Conservation and Technology Center (FCTC), a year-round eco-destination.
If you’ve had the opportunity to drive down Dickman Rd. recently you would have noticed more construction happening at the Florida Conservation and Technology Center (the buildings behind the big blue building) and Suncoast Youth Conservation Center (SYCC-the big blue building).
Under construction? A sea turtle hospital and more coral research labs as well as a kayak house and pavilion for student visitors to SYCC. The new SYCC Welcome Center is almost finished and it’s incredible. They’ll be holding an open house for the public in January (stay tuned for details).
I’ll be publishing an update soon to tell you about the new additions to the FCTC and SYCC area. There’s some pretty cool stuff coming our way.
Hope to see you all at the Manatee Viewing Center. Hundreds of manatees are already hanging out in the warm waters around TECO and now we get to visit the snowbird sting rays,too.
What’s been your coolest spotting at the Manatee Viewing Center? Comment below.