12 Stingrays Mysteriously Found Dead at Tampa Zoo Touch Tank Exhibit

Twelve stingrays were mysteriously found dead in a Florida zoo's touch tank exhibit on Thursday morning.

In a Facebook post, ZooTampa at Lowry Park announced 12 of the stingrays living in the zoo's Stingray Bay touch tank exhibit had died.

"It's with heavy hearts we share that today ZooTampa lost 12 residents of Stingray Bay," the zoo wrote in the post.

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The stingrays lived in the 16,000 gallon saltwater tank, named Stingray Bay. The zoo allowed visitors to come up and the stingrays living in the exhibit.

A spokesperson for ZooTampa told Newsweek in a written statement that the 12 stingrays that were found dead included seven cownose stingrays, four Southern stingrays and one Atlantic stingray.

"Stingray Bay is a closed system that's home only to the rays," the zoo continued.

In the statement sent to Newsweek, the zoo said that upon discovering the 12 dead stingrays, animal care and veterinary teams have continued to examine all the mechanical equipment involved in the exhibit. Officials have also been testing the stingray exhibit's water temperature, quality, oxygen and pH levels.

All of the tests conducted so far have indicated "optimal water quality and conditions," the zoo said.

While it is unclear what caused the deaths, the zoo said in the statement that they are looking into "every possibility to uncover what caused the deaths, including conducting toxicology reports." The zoo's statement added test results may take several weeks to complete all the necessary tests to uncover what caused the 12 stingrays to die.

As the zoo continues its investigation into the mysterious deaths, it said that Stingray Bay will remain closed for at least eight weeks.

"Please keep our team in your thoughts - every professional here loves the animals we care for, and any loss is a difficult one," the zoo wrote in the Facebook post. "Thank you for your support."

ZooTampa's Stingray Bay touch tank exhibit first opened in 2001, according to the zoo's website. Since opening, the exhibit has offered visitors the chance to touch and even feed the stingrays residing in the exhibit.

Stingrays
Golden stingrays swim in a tank at the Michin aquarium - the newest and largest in Mexico, with 4,000 specimens of 150 species - in Guadalajara, Mexico on March 18, 2017. Hector Guerrero/Getty

ZooTampa is home to over 1,100 different animal species and according to the zoo's website, it is one of the most popular zoos in the Southeastern U.S., with over 1 million visitors annually.

A somewhat similar situation occurred in 2019 at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, Illinois. In a blog post from January 2019, the aquarium reported that officials noticed "some odd behavior" in several stingrays located in the aquarium's Stingray Touch experience exhibit.

Shortly after, the aquarium reported that 34 of 42 cownose stingrays living in the exhibit died.

"No conclusive determination of what caused the event is so disheartening and frustrating," Johnny Ford, a spokesman for the aquarium, told the Chicago Tribune in 2019. "But we also recognize that at times the natural world will continue to challenge us with things yet to be discovered."