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New animals add to the experience for aquarium visitors

In the eight weeks since the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island welcomed visitors back to experience up-close animal adventures, thousands who have stopped in to see what’s new have met some animals and habitats that weren’t there before. Baby alligators, yellow stingrays and a new sea jellies viewing window are all newly-introduced additions to the aquarium inviting an even more immersive experience.

The Seven Rivers Gallery is home to four new hatchling American alligators. The foursome comes from Alligator Adventure, a partner facility in South Carolina, which provided the animals on loan to the aquarium. Baby alligators were last introduced to the aquarium four years ago with the arrival of four hatchlings that had been recovered by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission after being illegally sold online. As they matured and began to grow too large for the habitat, they were safely transferred to the same South Carolina facility earlier this year.

NCARI reports the new alligators are all responding quickly to training that helps their caretakers keep them safe and healthy.

“They are really fast at learning because they are really motivated by food,” said aquarist Connie Quattlebaum. The baby alligators can be seen actively swimming in the gallery, floating on the surface of the water or basking on rocks.

Visitors to the Sea Senses touch pools will also see some colorful changes there, as newly introduced yellow stingrays mingle with Atlantic stingrays and horseshoe crabs. The five rays have distinctive light coloring accented with spots that very closely resemble the sand on the bottom of the pool, which helps them to camouflage. Like all the rays in the touch pools, the yellow rays have their barbs trimmed regularly, but aquarist Sheena Jones says the task differs from the Atlantic rays because of the barb’s location near the end of the tail. “Yellow stingrays have short, blunt tails so they have a little more force and leverage,” Jones says. “So you have to be careful.” Still, Jones says, she and the rays have always remained safe during handling.

No longer in the Sea Senses gallery are cownose stingrays, known for their blunt snouts and sleek skin. Careful observation by the aquarium’s animal experts determined they would be better suited to larger habitats. NCARI noted that in the interest of their future health and welfare, all four cownose rays were moved to a suitable location at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk in Connecticut.

In the popular Delicate Drifters Gallery, a restored viewing window (known in aquariums as a kreisel) gives visitors a stunning view of Pacific sea nettles. Some of the few animals at the aquarium not native to North Carolina, the sea nettles nonetheless have beautiful drifting tentacles and coloration that makes them unique.

The kreisel has been under repair and renovation for nearly two years, while guests have been able to watch moon jellies and other species through another wall display and three viewing tubes. With the larger kreisel returned, the Delicate Drifters Gallery once again offers surround-style viewing of these quiet and graceful creatures.

Since reopening, the aquarium is asking all guests to purchase tickets in advance online at ncaquariums.com and to remember that cloth face masks are required inside. Meanwhile, social distancing markers and hand sanitizer stations can be seen throughout the aquarium. “These steps help provide the safest possible environment for both our guests and our staff,” said communications manager Brian Postelle. “We need our animal caretakers healthy to best provide for the well-being of all of the animals here. And we greatly appreciate the community support.”

The NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is dedicated to the mission of “Inspiring appreciation and conservation of our aquatic environments.” The aquarium is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pre-reserved tickets and cloth face coverings are required. For more information, visit ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island.

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