Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Ultrasound scan for venomous fish

Keepers at Living Coasts in Torquay used ultrasound technology to check if a mangrove whipray was pregnant

Keepers at a marine wildlife park have been using ultrasound - and chain mail gloves - to find out whether one of their venomous fish is pregnant.

Staff at Living Coasts in Torquay, Devon, noticed that Bonnie, a mangrove whipray, had put on some weight and suspected she might be carrying young.

So they enlisted the help of a company, Mount International Ultrasound Services (MIUS), that makes ultrasound machines, to check her out using a £25,000 portable scanner.

Ghislaine Sayers, head of veterinary services at Paignton Zoo, which runs the park, said: "Bonnie has put on a bit of weight recently - we wanted to find out if this means she is pregnant. Ultrasound works well on aquatic species, as water is a good conductor of sound waves.

"Ultrasound uses very short waves to get detailed images - whales use much longer wavelengths to communicate across the oceans."

They gathered a team of keepers, vets and staff trained in the use of ultrasound and carefully examined Bonnie over 40 minutes. They had to take care as one sting from the fish's tail could have hospitalised any one of them.

The mangrove whipray (Himantura granulata) is found in shallow coastal waters in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

The long, whip-like tail has a stinging spine. The solitary predator can grow up to 1.4 metres (4.6 feet) across. It gives birth to live young.

Unfortunately, the ultrasound revealed that Bonnie was not pregnant, leaving staff at the park mystified as to why she is putting on weight. They are now checking to see what the cause of her weight gain is.

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