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Behind the scenes

Miracle Baby Eagle Ray

Scientific phenomenon at SEA Life Sydeny

A female Eagle Ray at SEA Life Sydney Aquarium has cloned herself and given birth. Last month, in a rare scientific phenomenon, Freckle - an eleven year old female Eagle Ray - gave birth to a baby despite not having contact with a male for over nine years. Freckle demonstrated a cloning process called parthenogenesis and as a result, the aquarium is now home to an adorable baby Eagle Ray named Ani who is four weeks old (born on 26th July, 2018).

Ani, which is short for Anakin, was named by the staff at SEA Life Sydney after Anakin Skywalker (better known as Darth Vader) who also had no father. The team are pleased to report Ani is in good health, swimming, eating and demonstrating the habits of a happy and healthy baby Eagle Ray who loves eating mussels and pilchard fillets.

Freckle lives in a tank with six other female ocellated Eagle Rays, two Leopard Sharks, a White-Spotted Guitarfish (also a ray) and many colourful and varied 'bony' fish and has had no contact with a male since early 2009.

Adam Stow, Associate Professor at Macquarie University, specialising in Genetics and Marine Conservation says, “Freckle, a female Eagle Ray at SEA Life Sydney has successfully cloned herself and given birth to a young Eagle Ray via a process called parthenogenesis. Parthenogenesis is a very rare reproductive strategy where an embryo develops without fertilisation. It is a rare occurrence among vertebrates such as Eagle Rays - so this is a very special arrival".

The team became confident that Freckle was pregnant following behavioural changes - her breathing became quicker and she was swimming faster, her appetite increased and she became more reluctant to engage in regular training sessions - a sign that she was protecting something.

Libby Eyre, Senior Aquarist and Ray Trainer at SEA Life Sydney Aquarium says, “We noticed something going on with Freckle in early June when her belly was noticeably larger. We initially dismissed pregnancy as there are no male eagle rays in the tank. As time went on we knew Freckle was indeed a mum-to-be.

“On 26th July, I came in and checked the Dugong Island tank where Freckle lives and when she swam over the tunnel, I noticed there was no belly! I quickly found the bub and there were screams of excitement from the staff - everyone was amazed at the process of having produced a little ray with no males in the tank! We’re now proudly home to a very rare little baby Eagle Ray. This experience has helped expand our already extensive knowledge of this species and will assist us in their ongoing husbandry. As well as being a little miracle, we think Ani demonstrates that we have top care of this species and what a fantastic job the team is doing.”

Animal (and Star Wars) lovers can follow Ani’s journey on SEA Life Sydney Aquarium’s Facebook and Instagram page.

September 2018

Ani baby ray
SEA Life Sydney Aquarium cloned ray
Merlin Entertainment