A small group of animal rights activists held signs outside the Assiniboine Park Zoo Sunday calling for a ‘Stingray Beach’ exhibit to be permanently shut down.

The exhibit had been open for just over a month when the zoo announced Wednesday three stingrays died and another three were injured because of natural -- yet aggressive mating behaviour, and closed the interactive exhibit temporarily.

The exhibit allows visitors to get up close to a shallow pool, touch and feed the animals.

Protest organizer Danae Tonge said the stingrays are being used for entertainment.

"They're being prodded at, and that's not right. They have nowhere to go, to escape people. Their behaviour is being thrown off, they're being abused," Tonge said.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo said it's not considering closing the exhibit permanently, and the decision on when to re-open will be done based on what's best for the stingrays.

It said the mating behaviour has been seen in the wild and captivity, and the stingrays are recuperating and receiving treatment.

The zoo said males and females have now been separated in the main pool, mating behaviour has reduced, and it's re-evaluating the situation on a daily basis.

In a statement to CTV News, zoo spokesperson Laura Cabak said the zoo closed the exhibit to give its animal care team the opportunity to provide treatment and observe the stingrays at length without outside influence, and implement modifications to their environment.

READ MORE: Aggressive mating leads to animal deaths, injuries at Stingray Beach exhibit

“We take our responsibility to care for these animals very seriously,” said Cabak.

“The Assiniboine Park Zoo prides itself on providing industry leading care to all living species under our stewardship. As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), we are part of a larger community of organizations dedicated to wildlife conservation, education and research and are held to the highest standards for animal welfare and care.”

“Our animal care and veterinary team members are highly trained professionals who are passionate about animal care and conservation”.

The zoo also said at least one-quarter of all ray species, an ancient group of fish that can be found all over the world in salt and freshwater, are threatened with extinction, and the exhibit provides an opportunity to expand conservation messaging.

In April, ahead of the exhibit’s opening, it said in order to ensure an optimal living environment for the stingrays, the exhibit features a state-of-the-art water filtration system, provides constant monitoring, and has its own veterinary facilities for regular check-ups and specialized care.

Protester Jessica Scott-Reid said attitudes are changing and people have more compassion for animals.

Earlier this month, Ottawa passed legislation to no longer allow whales and dolphins in captivity across Canada.

"Zoos are one of the main institutions of our culture, where we see captive wild animals on a normal basis, and I think people are starting to see this is very not normal,” said Scott-Reid.

READ MORE: Ottawa passes legislation that bans whale and dolphin captivity in Canada

Jon Bedder wants his daughter, Rena to understand the impact people have on the natural world and believes the zoo is protecting the stingrays.

"I did feed them once. I was a little scared … They are just really cool,” said Rena.

“I have full confidence they are more concerned with the well-being of the animals over the bottom line,” said Jon.

"I do feel a little sad, because why do they deserve to die, why do they fight each other over their females,” said Rena.

“I hope they open again because everyone seems to like them, because the first time that I went there, there was a huge line, everyone wanted to see them," she added.