Of course, the highlight of a day at Discovery Cove is an up-close experience with an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. However, there's so much more to explore -- hand-feeding tropical birds, meeting exotic small mammals, and snorkeling among thousands of fish, rays and sharks.
The fish, rays and sharks make their home in the Tropical Reef, which is cared for by a team of aquarists who teach guests to feed cownose rays throughout the day. Lessons demonstrate the correct feeding technique -- wrapping fingers around the fish “ice-cream-cone” style before submerging hands underwater. Then, rays suck the food into their mouths like a vacuum as they glide gracefully over fish-filled hands. On the menu for these slippery aquatic flyers ... shrimp, capelin and sardines.
When Discovery Cove opened in July 2000 the Tropical Reef boasted only cownose and southern rays. In 2003, spotted eagle rays were added and quickly became one of the most recognized animals in the reef. In the 10 years since opening nearly 370 pups (ray babies) have been born -- nine eagle, 113 cownose and 247 southern rays.
When the pups are born their wide pectoral fins, or “wings,” are rolled up and slowly uncurl after birth. Cownose rays give birth to one pup at a time but southerns and spotted eagle rays can have multiple pups. Ray pups live separately so they can be monitored while being trained to eat from aquarists hands. To learn more about the wonderful world of rays, visit www.seaworld.org.