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Months of speculation end with news of rare disease diagnosis for WNC’s famous stingray

Aquarium & Shark Lab by Team ECCO

Western North Carolina’s famous stingray has a rare disease, according to a much-awaited update posted by the Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab in Hendersonville on Thursday on social media.

“The reports show that Charlotte has developed a rare reproductive disease that has negatively impacted her reproductive system. The findings are truly a sad and unexpected medical development,” the May 30 statement said.

The California round stingray, who lives at the nonprofit ocean education center on Main Street, was thrown into the international spotlight in February when it was announced she had become pregnant without a male in the tank, a form of reproduction where an egg develops without being fertilized by sperm called parthenogenesis.

The average gestation period for stingrays is three to four months, but this was no ordinary pregnancy.

In weekly video posts, founder and director Brenda Ramer and members of the Team ECCO staff provided updates and encouraged the public to be patient, noting there was no data on the gestational timeline. But as the weeks and months went by, there was increased speculation over what was happening.

While Thursday’s May 30th post shed a ray of light, it also left unanswered questions including whether Charlotte is still pregnant. A follow-up post clarified that there isn’t a name for Charlotte’s disease diagnosis, and that the staff is actively searching for more information. Team ECCO has not responded to additional questions from BPR.

Read the full post here:

“We regret the delay of updates regarding Charlotte. This time was necessary to gather data and analyze lab and testing results.

These reports were shared with our care team. The reports show that Charlotte has developed a rare reproductive disease that has negatively impacted her reproductive system. The findings are truly a sad and unexpected medical development.

Our priority is to focus on Charlotte’s health and wellbeing. We will work with, and be guided by, veterinarians and specialists to better understand this disease and the treatment options for Charlotte. While the research of this disease is limited, we hope that Charlotte’s case and medical treatment will positively contribute to science and be of benefit to other rays in the future.

We sincerely appreciate the incredible outpouring of love and support for Charlotte. Please respect Charlotte and her care team as we navigate this unexpected news and work to determine the best path forward. Updates will be given as we are able.”

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.