A Florida zoo is mourning the tragic loss of 12 stingrays whose deaths remain a mystery.
Staff at ZooTampa say conditions in their tank were “optimal,” and further mechanical and chemical testing of the stingray habitat has yet to reveal any clues since they were found dead on May 27 — the day of the zoo’s grand reopening after closing during the pandemic.
“It’s with heavy hearts we share that today ZooTampa lost 12 residents of Stingray Bay,” read a somber message on the zoo’s Facebook page.
“Please keep our team in your thoughts — every professional here loves the animals we care for, and any loss is a difficult one,” they wrote.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the stingrays died suddenly, within an hour of staffers reporting their abnormal behavior. Veterinarians were called immediately but arrived moments too late.
ZooTampa’s 16,000-gallon stingray tank featured three different stingray species — seven cownose, four southern and one Atlantic — all of whom were affected by the same mysterious illness. The loss of captive cownose is particularly disconcerting, as they’re considered a vulnerable species in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“We are emotionally exhausted,” Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, conservation and education at the zoo, told the Tampa Bay Times. “[May 27] was just a horrible day. It’s like a day out of your nightmares, pretty much … We’re really focused on trying to get to the bottom of what happened.”
A “meticulous” investigation continues, according to ZooTampa’s official statement, promising to explore “every possibility” and issuing toxicology reports, though the data could take weeks to process. They’ve also invited “outside experts” to join the effort, said Stringfield.
In the meantime, some 1,000 zoogoers have come to social media to pay condolences to “devastated” zoo staffers and share fond memories of their encounters at Stingray Bay.
“RIP little floating pancakes,” said one fan of ZooTampa’s fever — the word for a group of stingrays. The quirky comment offered a bit of levity to the solemn occasion — and drew nearly 50 likes of its own.
Said Stringfield, “The outpouring of support and seeing how much those animals impacted the community — that was something really amazing.”