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Charlotte seems fine as due date draws closer

Kinsley Boyette, the assistant director of the Aquarium and Shark Lab by Team Ecco, works in the tank with pregnant stingray, Charlotte, during a program at the aquarium in March.

Charlotte, Hendersonville’s celebrity pregnant stingray, swims laps in her tank each day while calmly waiting for her pups to be born.

The humans interested in Charlotte’s miraculous pregnancy could take a lesson in patience from their aquatic friend, her caretakers say.
“Be patient,” B.J. Ramer, the founder of the Aquarium and Shark Lab by Team Ecco, said Wednesday. “It’s really not been forever.”
From the time the aquarium on Main Street announced in February that Charlotte became pregnant without the benefit of a male stingray, likely through a process called parthenogenesis, marine scientists, schoolchildren and fans around the world have been anxiously waiting for Charlotte to give birth.
She’s been the focus of numerous articles and television news broadcasts and even late-night television comedy sketches.
Scientists from across the country and around the world also wanted to see Charlotte’s pups for themselves to learn more about how she became pregnant.
But because her pregnancy is virtually unheard of, Ramer said, everyone will have to wait for nature to take its course.
“It’s nature. You can’t force your hand there,” Ramer said. “When Charlotte is ready, Charlotte will deliver her pup.”
The aquarium sees no changes in the stingray’s behavior. She’s grown a little larger recently and a barb she lost a few weeks ago is beginning to regrow, which is a good sign, Ramer said. An ultrasound performed a few weeks ago also showed no signs of distress.
“Everything is status quo,” she said.
The aquarium first saw eggs in Charlotte in mid to late December and learned she was pregnant shortly before announcing the unique pregnancy to the public in February.
Ramer said she was unsure exactly when the process of parthenogenesis began.
The timeline, she said, is not far from the typical gestation time for a stingray. No data exists for what to look for in Charlotte’s case because it has never happened, Ramer said.
In the meantime, the aquarium continues to hear from people interested in Charlotte and an out-of-state public relations firm that offered its services “pro bono” now responds to media requests for information on Charlotte.
Ramer said she most appreciates hearing from teachers who want to introduce their students to science through Charlotte’s story.
“We wanted the interest in science. That is why we shared our gift,” she said.
The aquarium has cameras set up for constant monitoring of Charlotte. The cameras are linked to employees’ phones and will allow them to know when she gives birth, even if it is in the middle of the night.
They plan to be there whenever the birth happens to move the pups from the large tank Charlotte shares with the sharks and other fish to a small tank set up nearby just for the pups.
The aquarium will then announce the birth to the public.
Once the pups are born, Ramer said she intends to have their DNA tested at the Field Museum in Chicago to learn more about how they were conceived.
Scientists are also expected to travel to the aquarium to study Charlotte and her pups. Ramer declined to name the scientists or say where they are located, citing privacy concerns.
With all the aquarium’s plans in place for scientific study and the intense attention the birth will likely draw, all that is left to do now is wait for nature to decide when Charlotte will give birth.
“We are ready,” Ramer said. “We appreciate everybody’s help and support.”