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The Vancouver Aquarium

Atelopus varius zeteki, (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy of The Vancouver Aquarium.

Before leaving British Colombia I wanted to visit The Vancouver Aquarium one more time. The public displays here are really excellent and a large area is dedicated to amphibian exhibits. It’s named ‘Frogs Forever’, and shows a huge array of amphibian species whilst covering subjects such as amphibian natural history, threats to survival, and of course frog conservation. It’s clear Darren’s been hard at work since leaving Manchester, and the improved exhibits are exceptional. Whilst visiting, it’s been a real pleasure for me to meet members of the team here. Its also been great to see some of the wonderful species being maintained behind the scenes, including the Critically Endangered Golden Frog, Atelopus zeteki (Pictured above)

As well as the frogs, I’ve also been greatly impressed with the work being carried out here with different fish species, and in particular the neotropical freshwater stingrays. These are naturally found in the Amazon and Orinoco basins of South America, where in many cases they are more feared than piranhas by local people. This is due to the number of accidents that occur as the stingrays lay buried in the shallows of sandy beaches with a readiness to defend themselves with their venomous tail spines.

Tiger Stingray (Potamotrygon tigrina) (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy The Vancouver Aquarium

At the aquarium, Senior Biologist Jennifer Reynolds is working with three species of stingray: Ocellated river stingrays (Potamotrygon motoro), Xingu River stingrays (Potamotrygon leopoldi), and Tiger stingrays (Potamotrygon tigrina).  Jennifer tells me she especially enjoys working with these animals because they are beautiful, inquisitive, and have a fascinating natural history. I have to agree.

Freshwater stingrays are ovoviviparous, giving birth to well-formed live young after a gestation period averaging 3-5 months.  Jennifer seems most proud of the Tiger Stingrays – a species with a complex and beautiful pattern of golden yellow and black which she considers the most beautiful of all the freshwater stingrays (pictured above).

Young Tiger Stingray (Potamotrygon tigrina) (c) Andrew Gray, Courtesy The Vancouver Aquarium

Tiger stingrays are notorious for being delicate, picky, and difficult to maintain in captivity. Jennifer has been working with them since 2003, and the tiger stingrays have now successfully reproduced twice at the aquarium. Only one other public aquarium in the world has successfully reproduced this species in captivity – the Shedd aquarium in Chicago.

The young stingrays require a great deal of care and specialized feeding, so are kept behind-the-scenes until they are stabilized, which takes an average of 6 months. I saw two of them which were born in April that Jennifer is rearing, and they were stunning.

Xingu River stingray (Potamotrygon leopoldi) (c) Andrew Gray, courtesy The Vancouver Aquarium

I also saw some of the female Xingu river rays that the aquarium had recently acquired to work towards breeding this species in captivity. Completely black with bright white polka-dots covering their bodies, these stingrays were also stunning (pictured left).



Whilst chatting with Jennifer, I learned about a worrisome dam project looming on the Brazilian river where these particular stingrays occur. The Belo Monte dam is a highly controversial project that has received a lot of international attention in the last few years, and particularly the last 6 months. While most concerns centre around the fate of the indigenous people, biologists are also very concerned about the fish. While a great deal of work has been done with this species, no one is quite sure what effect the dam will have on the wild population or their fragile ecosystem..

Learn more about the Belo Monte dam and sign the petition.

If you have questions about freshwater stingrays, you can contact Jennifer O. Reynolds at jenoreynolds@gmail.com or see her photo collection HERE


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