The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum will open a Stingray Touch exhibit this summer.
Similar exhibits at the Phoenix Zoo and elsewhere across the country “have been found to be very popular for visitors,” said Betsy D. Warner, the museum’s director of marketing.
The museum’s touch tank, a shallow, 10,000-gallon aquarium, will be outside and fully shaded, with a 95-foot perimeter that allows access for visitors to touch and feed the 25 cownose rays swimming in the tank.
The rays are not venomous and their barbs will be trimmed monthly, Warner said. She likened it to trimming toenails.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors, which owns the museum’s 98-acre site west of Tucson, approved construction of the exhibit on April 5. It will open this summer.
The aquarium, walkways and shade structures will be built with a $200,000 private donation to the museum.
Because it is being built by museum staff and other in-kind contributions, it actually represents a $500,000 addition to the museum, says a memo to the board from County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
“This highly interactive exhibit is sure to delight our visitors, and give them another reason to visit the museum, positively impact visitation and provide the museum with sustaining revenue so that all operations and maintenance costs are covered,” museum Director Craig Ivanyi wrote in a letter to the county.
Warner said the new attraction also fits with the museum’s goal of providing a total experience of the Sonoran Desert, whose southwestern reaches are along the Gulf of California.
Warner said the cownose rays are “closely related” to species of stingrays in the gulf, though the cownose itself is an Atlantic Ocean species.
They have proven to be “a hardy species” in similar exhibits, she said, and respond well to touching and hand-feeding.
The 15 rays already at the Desert Museum were born in captivity at the Phoenix Zoo, she said.
The Desert Museum is one the region’s most popular attractions, with 400,000 visitors per year.