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Kansas City Zoo set to unveil interactive ‘Stingray Bay’ aquatic life exhibit this month

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Anyone who recalls the movie "Finding Nemo" will find the Kansas City Zoo's new exhibit familiar.

The zoo is going underwater with a brand new stingray exhibit, set to open in a couple of weeks. Lines might be out the door at the zoo when the Stingray Bay opens to the public on May 18.

Zoo staff members are excited about the new exhibit, which sits just beside Penguin Plaza. Meanwhile, 28 stingrays are swimming laps around a huge tank of water, having come to Kansas City from a facility in South Florida on Friday.

"We're hopeful this is something all of Kansas City will enjoy," said Sean Putney, Kansas City Zoo director of zoological operations.

Putney, who has served in his role at the zoo for 11 years, said there are two breeds of rays in the exhibit: Eight Southern stingrays, which swim close to the tank's bottom; and 20 Cownose stingrays, which swim closer to the surface of the water.

Putney said the two varieties of rays get along fine, and he believes they'll be a big hit with zoo patrons.

"We're hoping people make a connection with something they might not ordinarily see," he said. "We didn't have penguins here four years ago, and now, people have fallen in love with them. We hope the same thing happens with the stingrays. In fact, a lot of people do fall in love with the Cownose stingrays because they always look like they're smiling."

The stingrays aren't alone. Putney also showed reporters to a reserve tank where 12 white spotted bamboo sharks are being kept for now. Putney said the sharks and stingrays will stay together in the bigger tank once the exhibit opens in two weeks.

"We hope you leave with the message that sharks and stingrays aren't bad. They serve a purpose. We'll have some conservation messages to give out. We'll have some biology lessons people can learn from," Putney said.

Zoo leaders say there will be no additional fee for park patrons to see the stingrays. Putney said zoo staff members will show patrons how to safely reach into the tank and pet the rays without danger of being stung.