A North Carolina aquarium says that it has a scientific anomaly on its hands: a pregnant stingray with no apparent mate.
Hendersonville-based Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO houses a female round stingray named Charlotte. At first, staff worried that the stingray might have cancer.
Aquarium founder and executive director Brenda Ramer told Fox News Digital that she was stumped when she noticed Charlotte swelling.
“We’ve always known she was a she,” Ramer laughed. “Very visible to tell the difference. Sharks and rays are two of the easiest fish to tell.”
“We noticed that she had started to, for lack of a better word, swell,” she explained. “So we decided to ultrasound her, and we saw what we thought were lumps or growths inside of her.”
To the aquarium staff’s relief, the lumps weren’t tumors at all. They were pups – even though Charlotte had no recent contact with male stingrays.
“We sent [the ultrasound] off to have some other folks look at it and they said, ‘You know, those are eggs.’ And we’re like, ‘Okay, well this is great,'” Ramer recalled.
The aquarium, which is the first inland aquarium in North Carolina, has been in contact with experts from Australia and the United Kingdom about the oddity.
The expectant stingray likely reproduced through a method called parthenogenesis.
“The cells within the egg will split and they create a clone of the mother,” Ramer described. “Our little shark has lain [around] 900 eggs in the past eight years, and she has had 14 of those eggs grow embryos with no fertilization.”
“It’s such a hard concept to even think about, but I always tell people, think about the very first Jurassic Park movie. The dinosaurs did the exact same thing.”
The aquarium founder has floated the idea that a male shark in the tank impregnated the stingray, but conceded that it “is really not that strong of a possibility.”
“We had noticed that she had had some bite marks on her, and we thought it was fish… and then it hit us. We had put these two young male sharks in there who we didn’t think would be viable. But gosh, what if they mated with her?” Ramer said.
“Anything is really possible when it comes to animals,” the aquarium’s assistant director, Kinsley Boyette, told Fox News Digital.
For now, the aquarium believes that Charlotte is likely reproducing asexually.
“I’m not saying that it’s not a dead certain possibility. But until we do DNA tests… we can’t actually say anything for 100% certainty.”
Ramer said that the response from the local community has been supportive, and that the soon-to-be mama is doing well.
“She seems pleasant, none of her behaviors have changed,” the executive director said. “She’s healthy, she’s eating, she’s swimming. She’s letting us interact with her.”
“No matter what the outcome [is]… we are just crossing our fingers that Charlotte comes out of it okay, and the babies do too.”