One side of the new stingray tank at Sandoway Discovery Center enables visitors to see eye-to-eye with the rays. Photos provided
By Janis Fontaine
A peaceful energy washes over guests as they walk up the steps and on to the wide porch at Sandoway Discovery Center in Delray Beach. Just steps away from State Road A1A, life’s pace seems to slow down among the lush foliage and inside the Old Florida home. Even the staff appears to move with the grace of the species at the center of Sandoway’s newest exhibit: the magical stingray.
While the coronavirus was raging, Sandoway was remodeling. It redesigned the backyard, doubling the footprint by reclaiming unused space, built a new stingray touch tank, renovated the shark tank, and added new awnings to shade the entire area. The center also added a state-of-the-art filtration system, which is much quieter. When all the bills were paid, the backyard redo cost $300,000.
And as anyone who has lived in a house built when Florida was still wild can tell you, closet space is hard to come by, so everyone was excited about more storage space.
“I guess they didn’t have as much stuff back then,” said Danica Sanborn, Sandoway’s executive director. (That’s pronounced da-NEEK-a.)
Sanborn, who has a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s in marine biology, has overseen operations at Sandoway for 10 years. She loves her work teaching people of all ages about our unique marine environment.
At the other end of the tank, children can view and touch the six stingrays that reside there.
Sanborn’s goal — and Sandoway’s as well — is to create new stewards for the environment by teaching people about the habitats and species they are trying to save. Education is the key to conservation and the center is thrilled to introduce the newest members of the Sandoway family: six stingrays.
Three Atlantic rays (Dasyatis sabina) and three cownose rays (Rhinoptera bonasus) share the 15,000-gallon tank. The new stingray tank has a peek-a-boo window on one side and steps leading to a touch and viewing area on the other side.
There are more than 500 species of rays, Alyssa Dorfman, Sandoway’s director of education, told visitors. She has containers of fish and shrimp she’ll feed the rays as she talks. The rays are curious and they swim to the surface and seem to wave at visitors. The rays have only one way of protecting themselves: the venomous barbs on the end of their whip-like tails. They have the tank to themselves for their own and other creatures’ safety.
Next to receive food is the nurse shark, Norma Jean, who swims languidly along the bottom of the pool she shares with a few other fish — ones she won’t eat — like the shiny silver lookdowns and puggy striped burrfish.
Dorfman feeds Norma Jean and the rays at 1 p.m. every day, and it’s not just something to see, it’s something to hear. Norma Jean makes a loud slurping sound — a nursing sound? — as she feeds.
Sanborn said nurse sharks are also called carpet sharks because they can lie on the bottom of the tank motionless, unlike other sharks which have to keep moving to breathe. Dorfman said Norma Jean figured out if she lies near the filter intake it will pump water over her gills, making life even easier for the 6-year-old.
These normally nocturnal swimmers are very docile and Norma Jean performs an underwater ballet as she sashays from one end of the tank to the other.
The mission with these new exhibits is to highlight the importance of sharks and stingrays in our environment.
The learning doesn’t stop at the tanks. The center has an Everglades room, a room for a living coral reef, the discovery room where you’ll find amphibians and reptiles, and the nocturnal room where you’ll learn about animals that come out only at night.
Don’t miss the Yvonne S. Templeton Shell Room Gallery upstairs, where the Albert and Ann Becker Shell Collection has 3,000 shells on display. The Becker collection totals about 10,000 in all, which their niece Linda Becker Dean’s family inherited and donated to the center in 2002.
More than 6,000 Palm Beach County students and 25,000 total guests visit Sandoway each year. Sandoway also offers after-school programs for students, including the RISE program for high school kids and internships for college students.
Sanborn says the facility always needs volunteers. Suitable candidates must be at least 15 years old and willing to work at least three hours per week for a minimum of six months.
Have an idea for Tots & Teens? Email Janis Fontaine at email@example.com.
Visit the stingrays
Sandoway Discovery Center
Where: 142 S. Ocean Blvd., Delray Beach
When: Noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sunday
Shark and stingray feedings: 1 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, plus 11 a.m. Saturday
Aquarium feedings: 2 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Animal encounters: 3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Admission: $10 for age 3 and older
Parking: Available in the lot of Ingraham Avenue or in the lot just north of the center
Information: 561-243-7263 or https://sandoway.org
What: Muscle on the Beach car show fundraiser for Sandoway Discovery Center’s new stingray tank and hands-on learning experiences. Hosted by Mike Brewer, star of The Discovery Channel hit show ‘Wheeler Dealers.’
When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. March 4 (rain date March 5), Old School Square, 51 S. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach
Admission: Free for spectators; $125 per registered vehicle, to include cars, trucks and hot rods of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s