March 9, 2016 6:47 pm
Updated: March 9, 2016 7:49 pm

New Vancouver Aquarium exhibit allows a rare hands-on experience with stingrays

WATCH: Visitors to the Discover Rays exhibit at the Vancouver Aquarium get a rare experience of touching stingrays.

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Normally you would have to travel to the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean to get a rare hands-on experience with the silky-smooth and graceful southern stingrays and cownose rays.

But starting Thursday, people will be able to connect with the ocean creatures at Discover Rays, a new exhibit that highlights the world of rays at the Vancouver Marine Science Centre.

Discover Rays will give visitors a chance to experience first-hand these gentle fishes as they glide beneath the water’s surface in the newly built 50,000 litre touch pool.

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The exhibit allows visitors to roll up their sleeves and find out what makes the flattened sharks skins so soft and smooth to touch — and how their sixth sense allows them to capture food they can’t even see.

“For the first time at the Vancouver Aquarium, visitors will have an opportunity to get up-close with the amazing world of rays. Discover Rays is an immersive experience that encourages an interactive exploration of some of our mysterious underwater creatures,” said John Nightingale, Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre president and CEO.

“This sensory experience will help create a newfound appreciation for rays and the need to conserve them. By connecting visitors to aquatic life in a tangible way we hope to inspire more people to care and take action to conserve our natural world.”

Cownose rays are a type of stingray that swims by flapping their wing-like pectoral fins through the water. Their tail is skinny and barbed and they have a distinct head with their eyes positioned on the sides. This allows the them to have a 360-degree view. These types of rays live along the western Atlantic from Massachusetts to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Southern stingrays are kite-shaped with its eyes on top of their head and its gills and mouth are underneath. They also have a skinny, barbed tail and live along the western Atlantic from New Jersey to Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Like sharks, the main threat to rays is overfishing or people harvesting their fins or “wings” for meat, their liver for oil and manta ray gills for soup. These gentle creatures are disappearing around the world and play an integral part in the ecosystems.

The special ray-themed program at the Vancouver Aquarium will take visitors on a visual journey inside the incredible anatomy of rays, examining how they fly through the water and how they camouflage to hide from their prey.

Discover Rays opens March 10 and is located just outside the Teck Engagement Gallery on the lower level.

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