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Do these spots make me look fat?

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Volunteering | Fish | Sharks

Thursday, November 29, 2007


A reticulate whiptail ray Himantura uarnak resides at Shark Lagoon and has been living there ever since the exhibit opened. Also known as the honeycomb ray, this Australian species occurs around coral reefs and feeds on small fish, bivalves and other invertebrates in the wild. They grow to have a wingspan of up to 7 feet decorated with an intricate leopard spot pattern. Our ray’s beautiful coloration often elicits comments like, “Wow! We need a rug like that!” from visitors to the Aquarium.

I feed the ray at 2PM. It may sound like an easy task but believe me, it is not. The ray is way down at the bottom of the exhibit so I have to attach the food to a pole in order to reach her. Here is where it gets complicated. If I take too long to attach food to the pole and feed her, the ray will feel rejected and swim away. I have to work quickly so that she does not loose her patience. The 8 foot pole I use to feed the ray looks very similar to the pole that the sawfish eats from. Often the sawfish gets confused and will chase the ray’s feeding pole. I have to avoid accidentally tempting the sawfish. The ray’s feeding station is sandwiched between the zebra shark feeding station and the bull shark’s feeding station. I have to make sure the zebra sharks and the bull shark don’t get tempted by the ray’s food. Big Guy, the sand tiger shark, also likes to check out the ray pole. If for any reason he thinks that the food on the ray pole was for him and the rays stole it, he gets angry and aggressive. BIG GUY MAD! BIG GUY SMASH! GRRRR!!! He actually doesn’t talk like that but you get the idea. Also, the red snappers like to steal the ray’s food so I have to keep them at bay. sigh I’m getting better at feeding but I still need more time to get it perfect.

Despite the reasons listed above, feeding the ray is not that bad because she loves to eat! At 2PM, she is always the first one sitting at her feeding station, eagerly waiting to be fed. She is such a good eater that I can always count on the her to clean her plate. Among the foods we offer her are sardines, clams, squid and sometimes mahi. Of course all the food served is restaurant quality. How is quality control done? For me, if I am not comfortable throwing it on a stove and eating it myself, I do not serve it to the animals. Generally, if the food smells funny or even looks questionable at all, it goes in the trash and we find something better to feed. The ray also gets multi-vitamins placed in her food to ensure that she get all the nutrition she needs to stay healthy. I love preparing food for the rays because there is no better compliment than an empty plate.

The ray’s portions are meticulously controlled because we don’t want her to get too fat. When Shark Lagoon first opened, the reticulate ray called the small touch-pool home. She weighed roughly 30 lbs. Since then, she has doubled in size every year. Now, the reticulate ray has reached the maximum size for her species. In the past, she ate because she needed to grow. Now, the more she eats, the fatter she gets, just like humans! How do you tell if a fish is fat? We humans store our fat in our abdomen and rear end. Unlike humans, fish store their fat on their back. A fish with a healthy weight should have a smooth, aerodynamic back, free from lumps because lumps on the back are fat deposits. Obesity in any species leads to health problems. So far, the reticulate ray looks good but we need to be careful. She is always on the look out for leftovers from their shark roommates. When we are feeding the other animals, we need to make sure the food gets in their mouths and does not hit the bottom. Any food not eaten must be picked up immediately to prevent the ray from getting it.

Do these spots make me look fat?
The reticulate ray is waiting patiently while the zebra shark and bull shark keep crowding me. Hey guys! GO AWAY! This food is not for you!  | © David Chen
Do these spots make me look fat?
No, Sawfish, your food is on the other side. Please move along.  | © David Chen

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