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Midlothian school kids catch some rays at new Shedd exhibit

Ticket info

Stingray Touch is included in the Total Experience Pass — the best one-day value — with access to all permanent exhibits, the Jellies special exhibit, aquatic show and 4-D Experience. Total Experience Passes are $37.95 per adult; $28.95 per child (ages 3-11). Timed tickets for Stingray Touch can be bought as an add-on to the Shedd Pass for $5 per person ($3 for members). Shedd Passes are $28.95 per adult; $19.95 per child (ages 3-11). For information about discounts, visit www.sheddaquarium.org/discounts.html.

For more information on the exhibit and the aquarium, visit www.sheddaquarium.org.

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:33AM



One touch, and 8-year-old Sandy Brindl was sold.

“I’m definitely coming back here and I’m going to tell everyone I know about these animals,” she said, clasping her hands. “They are the most gentle animals in the sea.”

She was referring to the graceful cownose stingrays that she and her third-grade classmates from St. Christopher School in Midlothian were able to pet Tuesday during a sneak preview of the Shedd Aquarium’s new exhibit, Stingray Touch, which opens Friday.

Sandy’s friend, Loren Caldwell, of Posen, said, “It’s so awesome. Every time they come up to you, they think we’re friends.”

The students reacted to the opportunity to get up close and personal with exotic sea creatures exactly the way their teachers and Shedd officials hoped they would: with joy and with lots of questions.

“It’s one thing to be told about an animal, it’s another to actually touch it and experience it,” teacher Lauren Madlener said. “This experience will stay with these kids for a long time.”

Teacher Shawna Kurcz said, “The thing that I like best is that they’re interacting with science. Children learn so much from tactile experiences. We’ll take this experience back to the classroom and learn even more.”

Her sister, Maggie Kurcz, works in the aquarium’s education department.

“It’s so important for children to have positive experiences with animals,” she said. “It makes them care about protecting their habitats and it makes them know that all of us can make a difference.”

The 40 rays are exhibited in a 20,000-gallon seasonal outdoor pool that measures 80 feet long by 22 feet wide. It is located under a tented structure on the aquarium’s south terrace. Timed visits will be available through the fall.

While the larger, gray-colored cownose rays appear to fly through the 80-degree shallow water, their “wings” moving constantly, the smaller, round yellow rays tend to stay closer to the bottom. For safety reasons, the barbs have been removed from all of the rays.

Ted Beattie, president and CEO of the Shedd Aquarium, said engaged and excited children are evidence that the exhibit is doing its job, which is to connect people to animals and their environments, to inspire people to care about the health of our oceans and the wonderful creatures that live in them.

As the children counted aloud how many rays they’d touched, many tried to sum up the sensation in a single word.

“Smooth,” said Maggie Clifton, 9.

“Slimy,” said Faithe Garcia, 9.

“Squishy,” said Isabelle Beaver, 9. “And when they all swim together, they kind of look like a shark.”

Khalib Robinson, 8, of Blue Island, concluded that stingrays “are a pretty calm species. They don’t have sharp teeth but they do have stingers.”

After watching a Shedd worker toss bits of squid, smelt and herring into the water, Khalib said, “I sure wouldn’t want to eat that for lunch. It’s all raw and dead fish.”

As they lined up to visit other parts of the aquarium, the consensus was pretty much that stingrays are gentle and fun.

“But they do splash a lot,” Loren Caldwell said. “I’m soaked.”

It was hard to say if ray action or the children’s exuberance was to blame for that.

Madlener said, “We’re so lucky to live so close to all these wonderful museums. I hope these kids can go out and encourage others to take advantage of them.”



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