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Unique and Critically Endangered Bowmouth Guitarfish Pups Find Refuge at Shedd Aquarium

Guests Can See These Quickly Growing Animals Swimming in Shedd’s Wild Reef Exhibit

September 12, 2023

A bowmouth guitarfish swims through Wild Reef

Photo by: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Shedd Aquarium’s Wild Reef Exhibit is now home to three young critically endangered bowmouth guitarfish pups (Rhina ancylostoma). The pups were born in Taiwan last summer after the mother was inadvertently caught in a fishing net. The arrival of these pups demonstrates the mounting pressures facing our ocean and will allow Shedd and partners to contribute more directly to the conservation of this species in the wild.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to provide sanctuary for these rare and elusive animals to thrive here at Shedd while also sharing their story with the nearly 2 million guests we welcome each year,” says Noel Heinsohn, manager of Wild Reef at Shedd Aquarium. “Apart from the wonder they inspire for guests, caring for this critically endangered species offers a unique opportunity to learn about their needs, experience their spectacular behaviors and better advocate for their protection in the wild.”

Classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), bowmouth guitarfish face numerous threats in the wild related to overfishing and bycatch, habitat degradation and pollution. Shedd is working with the IUCN, field researchers, and other accredited aquariums to develop a comprehensive conservation and recovery plan for bowmouth guitarfish.

The pups, which can grow up to 8 feet in length, are thriving in their new habitat alongside several other Indo-Pacific species of sharks and other fish. All three are females, and at around 11 months old, they currently range in length from 4.5 to 5 feet and weigh between 79 and 85 pounds. Shedd aquarists have spent time observing their behaviors and monitoring their diets to ensure that they acclimate well and continue to grow.

Bowmouth guitarfish have several traits that make them well-adapted to their native environment within the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Their coloring, grayish brown with white spots near their fins and darker spots near their head, helps to camouflage them in their sandy or muddy environments by the ocean floor at depths of around 65 feet. This environment is where they can find their preferred prey, floor-dwelling crustaceans and mollusks, including shrimp, crabs and clams. They identify prey mainly using their sense of smell, as their eyes are located on top of their heads to detect potential threats. When they need to defend themselves, these large fish also sport spiky thorns above their eyes and along their back and shoulders that can be used for defensive butting.

VISUALS: Find high-resolution photos and video of the new bowmouth guitarfish here:

Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Video Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin