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Stingray deaths at ZooTampa blamed on ‘supersaturation’

TAMPA, Fla. — The deaths of 12 stingrays at a Florida zoo last month were caused by a “supersaturation” event that caused a fatal gas bubble disease, park officials said.

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According to officials at ZooTampa, the gas bubble is similar to “the bends” that can affect human scuba divers when bubbles enter the bloodstream, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In a news release, zoo officials said a system malfunction or cracks in the pipes in the touch tank at Stingray Bay could have caused the condition that killed seven cownose stingrays, four Southern stingrays and one Atlantic stingray on May 27.

Supersaturation occurs when an amount of substance in a solution exceeds what is necessary, the Times reported. In last month’s incident, there was a high level of oxygen in the stingrays’ tank, causing the gas bubble disease.

“Gas bubble disease is a fatal condition that is similar to ‘the bends’ in human scuba divers which is caused by bubbles in the blood stream,” ZooTampa’s news releases stated. “The event was not immediately known because the oxygen levels had resolved by the time the water was tested in the morning, following a standard water change.”

>> Touch tank stingrays found dead at ZooTampa

In its release, ZooTampa officials said it will not reopen its 16,000-gallon exhibit, WTVT reported. The zoo will build a new exhibit with an updated water management system, the television station reported.

All 12 deaths happened suddenly, and initial tests did not reveal anything wrong with the water, according to the Times. The zoo’s investigation revealed that the water had a standard change the morning of May 27, but that happened after the damage to the stingrays’ health had already occurred, the newspaper reported.

ZooTampa officials said it had sent water and tissue samples to Triton labs in Dusseldorf, Germany last week, WFLA reported. The zoo also brought in two aquatic experts from the zoo and aquarium industries to study the deaths, the television station reported.

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