Staff Report

The Florida Aquarium has collaborated with Tampa Electric Co. (TECO) to open a new stingray touch experience at the Manatee Viewing Center (MVC) in Apollo Beach.

“TECO has been a wonderful partner of ours for years, and we’re excited to work together on this new guest experience that will educate and connect people with the natural environment,” said The Florida Aquarium’s President and CEO Thom Stork. “They continue to be a strong community supporter of the Aquarium and our commitment to protect and restore the blue planet starting right here in Tampa Bay.”

Through safe interactions, onsite educators, and informative graphics, hundreds of thousands of manatee viewers can enjoy meeting other critical animal species that rely on a healthy Tampa Bay ecosystem.

The newly constructed 10,000-gallon stingray exhibit is the new winter home for more than a dozen of the Aquarium’s stingrays, including cownose and southern species, that reside in the outfield touch exhibit at the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg during summer baseball season.

Moving the rays across the Bay in 600-gallon transport carriers complete with life support, required two trips, 12 staff members and a veterinarian. “The stingrays arrived safely and are all acclimating well to their new home,” reported the Aquarium’s Director of Animal Husbandry Mike Terrell. “Thanks to the elaborate infrastructure TECO provided, this new habitat is state-of-the-art and has allowed us to create an environment that is safe, enriching and well-suited to stingray behavior.”

The habitat uses advanced monitoring technology that Aquarium biologists can access online at any time, from anywhere. They can view current oxygen levels, as well as the system’s pump and filtration status from any computer or smart phone. “The life-support system comprises more than a half a mile of pipe,” added Terrell.

The Aquarium will provide around-the-clock care for the animals including a staff veterinarian and four biologists who observe the animals, feed them and provide proactive health monitoring. The rays eat squid, capelin and smelt, about 100 pounds of food a week for all the animals in the habitat.

This new experience comes just in time to welcome the five-millionth visitor to the center, which experiences an influx of West Indian manatees that seek out the clean, warm water discharge canal of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station when the water temperature of Tampa Bay is 68 degrees or colder.

The stingray touch experience adds another key element to the Florida Conservation and Technology Center, a conservation and education site shared among The Florida Aquarium, TECO and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  This interactive, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based living classroom is aimed at educating students and showcasing environmental conservation efforts being spearheaded by all three organizations.

TECO’s Manatee Viewing Center is located at 6990 Dickman Rd. in Apollo Beach. It is open through April 15 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The observation tower and trails close at 4 p.m.

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