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Shedd Aquarium plans outdoor ‘stingray touch’ exhibit

Stingray Touch is largest outdoor special exhibit its kind aquarium’s history spanning more than 1400 square feet Shedd's south terrace.

Stingray Touch is the largest outdoor special exhibit of its kind in the aquarium’s history, spanning more than 1,400 square feet on Shedd's south terrace. The interactive touch pool will feature approximately 40 cownose rays and yellow rays. All rays have barbed tails that are a defense mechanism to ward off predators in the wild. Without threats from predators, Shedd’s animal health team painlessly trims the barbs on rays in Stingray Touch in a manner similar to clipping finger nails. | Courtesy Shedd Aquarium

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Updated: March 21, 2013 6:29AM

A “Stingray Touch” — it sounds about as enticing as a “Snake Snuggle” or a “Porcupine Pet.”

In fact, stingrays are terrific around people, say the folks at the Shedd Aquarium, whose new outdoor exhibit with 40 cownose and yellow rays is set to open April 27 — weather permitting.

“Despite the name, the animals only utilize their tails in self-defense from natural predators — other large fish, sharks and those sorts of things,” said Bill Van Bonn, the aquarium’s vice president of animal health. “They are acclimatized here . . . and won’t view people as a predator.”

And in case you’re worried that little Johnny might inadvertently grab hold of a ray’s tail when no one is looking, Van Bonn said the ray’s barbs have all been trimmed.

“It’s just like cutting a fingernail; we keep them short,” Van Bonn said.

Unlike the popular Beluga Encounter, visitors won’t be able to jump into the planned 18,000-gallon pool — the largest outdoor special exhibit of its kind in the aquarium’s history. But visitors will be able to pet the creatures during a staff-guided, “15-minute touch experience” that will run through fall, according to the aquarium.

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