Cairns Aquarium continues new large animal introduction program with release of Freshwater Whipray
On Thursday October 26th, Cairns Aquarium will introduce a long awaited new resident, a female Freshwater Whipray, to the 300,000 litre River Monsters exhibit which is the largest freshwater aquarium exhibit in Australia.
The Freshwater Whipray, the only Australian stingray capable of living in both fresh and brackish waters, has been held in quarantine at Cairns Aquarium for approximately 2 weeks, where it has been undergoing an acclimation process which includes being trained to feed by hand by the freshwater Aquarists. It is now feeding well and has reached the stage where it has been fully acclimated and can be released into its new home where it will be displayed with Barramundi, Mangrove Jack, giant forktail catfish and very soon the critically endangered freshwater sawfish.
The Freshwater Whipray, Urogymnus dalyensis is a very unique, little known animal that is endemic to Northern Queensland. This species scientific name “dalyensis” is in recognition of the major Northern Australian river where it was first collected, the Daly River. It is found in a limited distribution of waterways from the Daly, Fitzroy, Gilbert, Mitchell, Normanby, Ord, Pentecost, Roper, South Alligator, and Wenlock Rivers in northern Australia. However it is rarely seen as the river systems it inhabits are usually isolated, often muddy or turbid and in many instances crocodile infested.
Distinctive features include a pale brown to greyish disc, a prominent pointed snout, and a long whip-like tail with a venomous spine, the underside is whitish with greyish spots and a broad dark margin.
“We are so excited to have a Freshwater Whipray on display. It provides a unique opportunity for people to come and see an Australian ray that lives in freshwater. Due to the remote distribution and difficulty of spotting these rays, most people will never have a chance to see this species in the wild.” advises Cairns Aquarium General Manager, Julie Cullen.
“Very few people even know that Australia has a freshwater ray.” Cullen added.
More importantly for the survival of the species, Freshwater rays like the Whiptail employ a reproductive strategy that involves putting a great investment of energy into relatively few young over a lifetime. Once sexually mature, freshwater whiprays have only one “litter” of babies per year, usually bearing two to six young. Since so few young are produced, it is important that they survive, and therefore the baby rays are very large when born, almost half the size of an adult.From birth they are able to feed and fend for themselves much like an adult.
“As part of the Cairns Aquarium’s long term conservation and education program for endemic species such as the freshwater whipray, we hope to acquire an additional couple for breeding and rearing purposes” Cullen advised.