The Newport Aquarium's 17,000 gallon stingray touchpool is ready for visitors. The million dollar attraction features two dozen stingrays of three species, and a 30 foot long tunnel for viewing the fish from below.
The 6,000 square foot exhibit is the aquarium's biggest investment to date. It occupies the former Canyon Falls space. The rectangular window bisecting the pool is the ceiling to the underground tunnel. Visitors enter the tunnel to the right (where the children are pictured) and emerge from the staircase at left.
Executive Director Eric Rose says the large tank offers space for the animals to get away from visitors if they wish. "They usually seek out some level of contact, but at times when the want to go take a little rest - you'll see them napping in there - they can very easily find plenty of areas of the exhibit where they can go and be left alone."
Rose says the aquarium doubles the size of its filtration systems in touch exhibits. "In addition to the animals in there and what's feeding, peoples' hands go in there and other things go in there, so we greatly plus up the quantity of aquatic filtration and make it turn around a whole lot quicker. It's a lot more robust in order to keep the water crystal clear and clean."
The tunnel offers lots of light and interesting views, but beware, it is definitely child-size. Adults should be prepared to crawl or duck-walk.
"Going through the tunnel," says Rose, "people will find a 360 degree, panoramic tube that they'll pop up in the middle of the tank. They'll find themselves standing literally in the middle of the tank. What we're seeing is that families love to go in there and have that 'family moment' and it's turning out to be an awesome selfie spot."
The floor level varies around the edges of the tank allowing for adults and children to stand at a comfortable height for touching the rays. There is also a smaller touch pool for young children.
The stingrays' barbs have been removed. Rose says the barbs are made of cartilage and removing them does not cause pain to the animals. He likens it to a person clipping his/her nails.