A natural ray of light

November 16, 1990|By Pat van den Beemt

More than 100 of nature's most mysterious and misunderstood creatures -- rays -- can be seen gliding gracefully through 250,000 gallons of salt water at the National Aquarium's newest exhibit, "Wings Under Water."

Southern stingrays, cownose rays and bluntnose rays, collected in Chesapeake Bay waters and off the Florida coast, now swim in the largest ray exhibit in the country. Like their cousins, the shark, rays have remained relatively unchanged for millions of years. Rays are not predators of man, but their painful sting

can discourage human contact.

"Unless threatened, rays are very docile," notes Bruce Hecker, the aquarium's curator of fishes. "And for the divers at the aquarium, rays are as pleasant to touch as they are to feed -- their skin feels like silk."

Aquarium visitors can watch the rays being fed a mixture of shrimp, clams, krill and smelt at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

The divers coax the rays along the exhibit's underwater viewing windows, so visitors can see their mouths and teeth.

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