MANTEO, N.C. – Some new animals are now calling the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island home.
The aquarium's Seven Rivers Gallery is home to four new hatchling American alligators that come from partner facility Alligator Adventure in South Carolina, which provided the gators on loan. Baby alligators were last introduced to the aquarium four years ago, with the arrival of four hatchlings that had been recovered by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission after being illegally sold online. As they matured and began to grow too large for the habitat, they were safely transferred to the same South Carolina facility earlier this year.
Aquarium officials say the new alligators are all responding quickly to training that helps their caretakers keep them safe and healthy.
“They are really fast at learning because they are really motivated by food,” says Aquarist Connie Quattlebaum. The baby alligators can be seen actively swimming in the gallery, floating on the surface of the water or basking on rocks.
If you stop by the Sea Senses touch pools, you'll also see some colorful changes - newly introduced yellow stingrays now mingle with Atlantic stingrays and horseshoe crabs. The five rays have distinctive light coloring accented with spots that very closely resemble the sand on the bottom of the pool, which helps them to camouflage.
Like all the rays in the touch pools, the yellow rays have their barbs trimmed regularly, but Aquarist Sheena Jones says the task differs from the Atlantic rays because of the barb’s location near the end of the tail.
“Yellow stingrays have short, blunt tails so they have a little more force and leverage,” Jones says. “So, you have to be careful.”
Cownose stingrays, known for their blunt snouts and sleek skin, are no longer in the Sea Senses gallery. After careful observation by the aquarium’s animal experts, staff determined they would be better suited to larger habitats. All four cownose rays were moved to the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk in Connecticut.
In the popular Delicate Drifters Gallery, a restored viewing window, known in aquariums as a "kreisel," gives visitors a stunning view of Pacific sea nettles, which are some of the few animals at the aquarium not native to North Carolina. The sea nettles have beautiful drifting tentacles and coloration that make them unique.
The kreisel has been under repair and renovation for nearly two years; guests have been able to watch moon jellies and other species through another wall display and three viewing tubes. With the larger kreisel returned, the Delicate Drifters Gallery once again offers surround viewing of these creatures.
Since the aquarium reopened on September 14, the facility is asking all guests to purchase tickets in advance online and to wear face masks inside. Social distancing markers and hand sanitizer stations can be found throughout the aquarium.