Newport Aquarium's 'Sweet Pea' expecting shark ray babies

NEWPORT, KY (FOX19) - Newport Aquarium announced Saturday that Sweet Pea, the first shark ray to go on display in the Western Hemisphere, is pregnant – marking the first time a shark ray has become pregnant while in a controlled environment.

The pregnancy was confirmed on January 8 upon which Sweet Pea was taken off display and moved to another facility where she'll remain throughout her pregnancy.

Dr. Peter Hill speculates that Sweet Pea could give birth to around a half a dozen pups. However, Newport Aquarium biologists are managing their expectations due to the uncharted territory of shark ray reproduction.

"As excited as we are, there's still a lot of work to do. There are many challenges and unknowns to overcome," said Scott Brehob, a biologist who manages the shark rays on a daily basis.

The successful breeding was carried out through Newport Aquarium's Shark Ray Breeding Program that was established in February 2007. Health Specialist Jolene Hannah says the program is not just about breeding the shark rays, but about learning as much as possible about the rare fish, a fish that is considered by the World Conservation union as "vulnerable to extinction."

Upon Sweet Pea's arrival at Newport Aquarium in June 2005, there were just five institutions in the world with shark rays. Today that number has increased to 25 institutions.

The Newport Aquarium is currently home to four shark rays.

Copyright 2014 WXIX. All rights reserved.