Touching wild creatures is normally a strict no-no at most exhibits, but Chicago's Shedd Aquarium is actually inviting hands for its new Stingray Touch experience.
The new exhibit, which opens Friday, lets visitors touch some 40 cownose rays and yellow rays in the aquarium's new 20,000-gallon pool located under a tent on the south terrace, according to a release from the Shedd.
“Stingray Touch is a unique opportunity to participate in an encounter with these surprisingly gentle creatures in a safe environment for both the animals and our guests,” said Bill Van Bonn, Shedd’s vice president of animal health.
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While letting people touch anything that has "sting" in its name seems counterintuitive, Shedd officials want the public to see — and feel — the creatures' softer side.
“From our work with stingrays, we know that their nature doesn’t match their reputation," Van Bonn said. "We’re looking forward to help share our understanding of rays with people. As our visitors will see in Stingray Touch, rays are docile aquatic animals that are safe for guests to touch, despite what their names might say about them.”
The Shedd has taken several safety precautions with the new exhibit, including having lifeguards on hand should anyone try to climb into the pool. Since the rays don't need the defense mechanism as they would in the wild, aquarium staff regularly clip the rays' harmful barbs, which they say is painless to the animals and similar to trimming fingernails.
Visitors will be able to dip their hands in the saltwater pool and feel the tops of the rays floating by. Additionally, Shedd staff will share information with visitors about the different sting rays, and ways to help protect their natural marine habitat.
The Shedd said the experience will stay open to the public through fall of 2013, weather permitting.
Stingray Touch opens May 17 at the Shedd Aquarium. Visit the Shedd's website for ticket and pricing information.