About every eight weeks, a team at the Aquarium takes on the task of trimming the barbs on the rays in the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, making the rays safe for the viewing—and touching—public.

A cownose ray waits its turn to have its barb trimmed in the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank.

The process begins with Aquarium staff adorned in wetsuits—usually including Aquarium Assistant Curator, Fishes, Steve Spina—corralling and moving the rays to one side of the kidney-shaped touch tank, which is then divided by a net.

Assistant Curator, Fishes, Steve Spina, adorned in his wetsuit, presents the next ray to a team that will trim its barb.

The rays are gathered from the water and carefully placed onto one of two stations set up that morning for the procedure. As one or two team members gently holds down the flapping ray, another gingerly trims the ray’s barb, if needed, as not all the rays have barbs that have grown long enough to require clipping. The trim doesn’t hurt the rays. The barbs, which grow back like a fingernail on a human or the nails of your dog or cat, can reach several inches in length if left untrimmed. 

Occasionally, the cownose rays are placed in a container and weighed before being released unharmed on the other side of the net-divided touch tank.

A team of Aquarium workers protects the ray while its barb is trimmed.
Here is a part of a barb that was trimmed from a ray.
After its barb was trimmed, a cownose ray is weighed.
The procedure done in minutes, the ray is returned unharmed to the touch tank.