24 June 2005

Great white shark dies in captivity

A great white shark mistakenly captured by fishermen died shortly after the Monterey Bay Aquarium transported it to an ocean holding pen.

The 5-foot, 60-pound shark was caught eight days ago off Huntington Beach before a 4 million gallon holding pen had been moved from storage in Mexico and set up in ocean waters off Malibu. Aquarium officials initially moved the female shark to a much smaller holding pool in San Pedro until the larger pen was ready.

The shark was finally moved to the ocean pen on Friday. It was found dead on Sunday.

"It seemed like a reasonable thing to do," said aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson. "Our husbandry staff had some comfort level." But he acknowledged that "something in transit took longer than it should have."

Researchers had not yet decided whether to tag and release the animal or move her north to the aquarium display. Another white shark that had been held for a record 198 days, drawing record visitors, was released back into the wild in March after growing too large and too aggressive.

The cause of death was under investigation. The animal had not eaten since her capture, but it was not clear whether that was caused by an injury, stress from her capture or an unknown medical condition. The results from a necropsy were not immediately available.

"The best indication is she just kind of ran out of gas from not having eaten," Peterson said. The shark also had injured an eye, though it's not clear when or how that occurred. "We didn't feel comfortable releasing it into the wild," Peterson said.

The death is not expected to affect the shark research program, though it does fuel debate over whether the aquarium should be trying to keep white sharks in captivity. "These animals can't be kept long term, and short-term captivity compromises them," said Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz

But Chris Lowe, director of the California State University, Long Beach's SharkLab, which works with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, disagrees.

"We're just scratching the surface in terms of what we understand about these animals," he said. "We've learned more in the last four years than we did in the previous 50.

Source: SharksTrust


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