The animals of the Oklahoma City Zoo's Stingray Bay exhibit aren't aware of the commotion above the surface as kids jockey for position to feed them as they glide through their tank.
The exhibit has been open about a week and already has become popular with visitors. On a recent weekday afternoon a steady stream of adults and kids wait to touch the rays and feed them.
“The animals are doing well, and the water is in good shape,” exhibit supervisor Michelle Komarek said. “I think the people who have come in to experience it have enjoyed themselves. Feeding a stingray isn't something you get to do every day.”
The rays have their barbs trimmed. Komarek said it's not unlike trimming a fingernail.
“We do that for public safety, and also they really don't need the barbs in this kind of environment,” she said.
Their environment is complex. Water quality is critical to the health of the stingrays, and the small bamboo sharks that share it. Salt content, temperatures, ammonia and ozone are just some of the chemistry that is monitored by staff. Visitors must wash their hands at a sink before entering because of the potential for chemicals in hand lotions and sunscreens to interfere with water quality.
The attraction is maintained by staff from Living Exhibits, a Nevada-based company that manages similar exhibits at other zoos across the United States. The zoo paid $656,000 for construction of the exhibit which includes the tank, and the extensive network of pumps, chillers, heaters and equipment that maintains water quality. Saltwater for the tank is made in-house.
“There is a lot behind the scenes that visitors don't really see,” Komarek said. “But what goes on behind the scenes is critical to what people experience.”
Zoo Director Dwight Scott said the decision to open the stingray exhibit was the product of a request from the Zoological Trust to come up with a new attraction.
“We put together a list of ideas, and the one who had the most wow to it was the stingray experience,” Scott said.
The ability for guests to participate in feeding was one reason why stingrays were selected. While most of the zoo's attractions are hands-off, this one offers something a little different.
“The animals are beautiful and very serene,” Scott said. “The facility is beautiful, as well.”
If you go
Stingray Bay is open Sundays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays through Sept. 7. It is $3 per person to enter and an additional $2 per cup of food.