A North Carolina aquarium says it has a scientific anomaly on its hands: a pregnant stingray with no apparent mate.
Team ECCO's Hendersonville-based Aquarium & Shark Lab is home to a female round stingray named Charlotte. At first, the team was worried that the stingray might have cancer.
Aquarium founder and executive director Brenda Ramer told Fox News Digital she was stunned when she noticed Charlotte's swelling.
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“We always knew she was the one,” Ramer laughed. “Very visible to tell the difference. Sharks and rays are two of the easiest fish to tell apart.”
“We noticed that it started, for lack of a better word, to swell,” she explained. “So we decided to do an ultrasound and we saw what we thought were lumps or growths inside her.”
To the relief of the aquarium staff, the lumps were not tumors. They were pups – although Charlotte had not had recent contact with male stingrays.
“We send [the ultrasound] I went to ask other people to look at it and they said, 'You know, those are eggs.' And we were like, 'Okay, well, that's great,'” Ramer recalled.
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The aquarium, which is North Carolina's first indoor aquarium, has been in contact with experts in Australia and the United Kingdom about the strangeness.
The expectant stingray likely reproduced through a method called parthenogenesis.
“The cells inside the egg will divide and create a clone of the mother,” Ramer described. “Our little shark lies [around] 900 eggs in the last eight years, and 14 of those eggs generated embryos without fertilization.”
“It's such a difficult concept to think about, but I always tell people, think about the first Jurassic Park movie. Dinosaurs did exactly the same thing.”
The aquarium's founder floated the idea that a male shark in the tank impregnated the stingray, but admitted it's “really not that strong of a possibility.”
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“We noticed she had some bite marks and we thought it was fish…and then it hit us. We put these two young male sharks in there that we didn't think would be viable. But, my God, what if they mated with her?” Ramer said.
“Anything really is possible when it comes to animals,” aquarium assistant director Kinsley Boyette told Fox News Digital.
For now, the aquarium believes Charlotte is likely reproducing asexually.
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“I'm not saying it's not a completely certain possibility. But until we do DNA testing… we can't say anything with 100% certainty.”
Ramer said the response from the local community has been supportive and that the mother-to-be is doing well.
“She seems pleasant, none of her behaviors have changed,” the executive director said. “She's healthy, she's eating, she's swimming. She's letting us interact with her.”
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“No matter what the result is [is]…we're just crossing our fingers that Charlotte comes out of this situation okay, and the babies do too.
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