An aquarium romance Matchup: The "Wings in the Water" exhibit at the aquarium gets two new roughtail rays. They join a lone male roughtail, who gives the female newcomer an unequivocal welcome.

November 13, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

It didn't take long yesterday for some monkey business to start in the fish tank.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore added two roughtail rays to its "Wings in the Water" exhibit yesterday -- a male ray caught off the coast of Delaware and a female that was rescued from an intake canal of a nuclear power plant north of Palm Beach, Fla.

Those rays joined a male roughtail -- the name comes from its spiny posterior -- and it didn't take him long to roll out the welcome wagon.

"Boy meets girl," said Bruce Hecker, the aquarium's curator of fishes, as he watched the male roughtail come up to the 275-pound female ray, who had been added to the tank about five minutes earlier, and chomp onto the posterior portion of her pectoral fin.

"That's a mating posture," he said. "They're checking each other out."

The aquarium staff transferred the two rays yesterday morning from the aquarium's Fells Point holding facility, where they had been quarantined for several months and treated for parasites before being added to the aquarium's collection of rays, the largest in the country. The female ray was especially coveted by the staff for breeding purposes.

The three roughtails, which can grow to as much as 7 feet wide and 14 feet long, will stand out as the biggest rays in the exhibit.

The transfer was a carefully choreographed procedure. Four divers entered the tank at the Fells Point warehouse to snare the female ray. They put her on a yellow canvas stretcher and lifted her out of the water.

In transferring the rays, the aquarists aimed to keep them out of water as briefly as possible and tried not to jostle them.

"We have to keep her as flat as possible," Perry Hampton, assistant curator of fishes, told the team holding the stretcher poles.

They put the female ray in a tub filled with fresh water, and as they wheeled it out to a truck with a tank the clock started to tick. The ray could tolerate the fresh water for about five minutes. During that time, veterinarian C. Roger Williams and his assistants performed a quick physical examination, measuring the ray and doing an ultrasound to see if she was pregnant.

That completed, they loaded the ray into the truck and repeated the process for the male ray, which at 118 pounds was considerably smaller than the female roughtail.

After a short drive to the aquarium, they reversed the process, loading each ray back into the portable tank for an elevator ride up one floor.

They lowered the rays into the exhibit and the roughtails began to swim cautiously, acclimating themselves to their new surroundings.

The job done, Hampton looked down into the 260,000-gallon tank to admire the female ray and couldn't believe it was the same one he and his colleagues had been struggling with all morning. "She doesn't look as big," he said. "What happened? Did she shrink?"

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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