Jen Reynolds’ start at the Vancouver Aquarium is the stuff of legends. The story told in Aquarium circles is that she was a teenage fish geek in small-town Ontario with dreams of working here. Never one to sit around and wait for things to happen, she took the initiative to contact the Aquarium about what she needed to do to set the wheels in motion. From sending letters to various fish magazines as a 13-year old, to flying out to Vancouver with the hopes of landing a job, Jen’s hard work eventually made her a senior marine biologist and a valuable member of the Vancouver Aquarium team.
For Jen, working at the Aquarium is more than just cleaning exhibits and feeding the animals in her section – it’s all about the passion. She’s constantly learning, reaching out to others in the field, and travelling to better understand the animals in her care (freshwater tropical animals).
One long-term initiative that she’s been working on is the breeding and rearing of tiger stingrays, a delicate animal that takes expertise to breed. Under her guidance, the Vancouver Aquarium has become one of only two facilities in North America to have successfully reproduced this species.
Jen says their natural history is, for the most part, still a mystery. Though tiger stingrays come from the Peru section of the Amazon River Basin, their distribution could be much wider; researchers just don’t know for sure.
Tiger stingrays are so new to scientists that they only got their scientific name – Potamotrygon tigrina – in 2011. By rearing tiger stingrays, Jen says, “We’re in a unique position to learn more about this species and possibly contribute to a greater understanding of them.” The pups that are born here may go on to live at other facilities, which will contribute to the Freshwater Stingray Population Management Plan ‒ a project spearheaded by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Patience, know-how and a keen eye – these are the things you need when you’re dealing with a pregnant tiger stingray. When Jen started to see mating scars on the female (white marks on the edge of her disc) earlier this year, she knew that she could soon be dealing with pups. One day, while looking at the female’s back, Jen actually saw the pups squirming inside her. When the two females were born live four months later, they were separated from the territorial males so they wouldn’t get eaten.
The female pups are currently behind the scenes while Jen continues to monitor them and figure out what they will eat. She says it’s really a matter of being persistent and offering a variety of foods: black worms, earthworms and smelt. It can take six months or longer to get them used to different food items. Meanwhile, the three adults (one female and two males) are in the Amazon gallery pond at the entrance of the free flight gallery, and the two male juveniles born in 2011 are in the pond closest to the marmoset exhibit.
“To me, the tiger stingray is the most beautiful freshwater stingray species. You see something different every time you look at them,” Jen says wistfully, showing that there’s ample opportunity for even the geekiest of fish geeks to be awed.