Mystery over stingray that could have been impregnated by shark

Charlotte the stingray is pregnant and expecting four pups (AP)
Charlotte the stingray is pregnant and expecting four pups (AP)

An aquarium in North Carolina has announced they are looking into the mysterious pregnancy of its female stingray.

Last week, the Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team Ecco, located in Hendersonville, made a Facebook post revealing that its stingray Charlotte is pregnant.

The pregnancy has been deemed “a once-in-a-lifetime science mystery”, by the aquarium, as they revealed at the time the female was impregnated there were no male stingrays in the tank with her.

Round Stingray Surprise Pregnancy
Round Stingray Surprise Pregnancy

The post, alongside two photos of Charlotte and the babies, said: “Our stingray, Charlotte, is expecting! We have held this close to our hearts for over 3 months. We have ultrasound images confirmed by two supporters: Dr. Robert Jones, the Aquarium Zvet out of Australia, and Becka Campbell, PhD candidate at Arizona State Univ.

“The really amazing thing is we have no male ray! We do have a couple of possible reasons For this event.”

In a statement to ABC 13 News, the aquarium said there are two ways in which Charlotte could have become pregnant. One is a rare process called parthenogenesis, in which the eggs develop on their own without fertilisation and create a clone of the mother.

The second possible explanation for the pregnancy is Charlotte could have mated with one of the young sharks, according to Brenda Ramer, executive director of Team Ecco.

Ms Ramer told the outlet: “In mid-July 2023, we moved two one-year-old white spot bamboo males (sharks) into that tank. There was nothing we could find definitively about their maturation rate, so we did not think there would be an issue.

“We started to notice bite marks on Charlotte, but saw other fish nipping at her, so we moved fish, but the biting continued.”

Speaking about the stingray and her future babies, Ms Ramer added: “We’re either going to have partho babies or we’re going to have some kind of a potential mixed breed, and we’re waiting for Jeff Goldblum to show up because we are Jurassic Park right now!”

Charlotte’s pregnancy was discovered in September (ABC 13 News)
Charlotte’s pregnancy was discovered in September (ABC 13 News)

Charlotte’s pregnancy was discovered in September after first noticing “swelling” in the animal that they initially thought was cancer. The aquarium’s vet, Dr Robert Jones, later confirmed that the stingray was growing three to four eggs.

Ms Ramer said the female stingray is carrying up to four pups and could deliver at any time soon now.

DNA testing will be done once Charlotte gives birth.

The Independent has reached out to Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team Ecco for comment and further details on the pregnancy.