23 September 2005

USA: White Shark Project left empty handed

The project, directed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, has not caught any sharks this year for its research on the great white. One shark that was caught by a fisherman off Huntington Beach died after it was transferred to a holding pen off the shores of Malibu.

Maybe it's the unusually persistent red tides or the low surf this summer. Whatever the reason, Santa Monica Bay seems to be empty of the juvenile great white sharks that have been seen in the area in past summers.

And that absence of great whites has been bad news for the crew from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is stymied in its quest to capture a second live juvenile great white for temporary display and research at the aquarium, some 300 miles north of Malibu.

Aquarium crews plan to give up the shark quest for this year if they don't catch one this week. So far they haven't even seen a fin since mid-June.

"Fishing is fishing, and sometimes the fish just aren't there," said Aquarium spokesman Ken Peterson. "We don't know what the reason is, but there just doesn't seem to be any sharks in the bay this summer."

Last year, television news helicopters repeatedly broadcast images of juvenile great whites lounging in shallow, warm water between Will Rogers and Santa Monica state beaches.

"This year, for whatever reason, there just haven't been any sharks in the bay," Peterson said.

And no live great white shark has been offered to the aquarium by commercial fishermen other than the one caught in June, which died before after it was transferred to its large holding pen off Escondido Creek near Paradise Cove.

That shark, which suffered an eye injury as it was accidentally caught in a fisherman's net and brought ashore, is the only live great white shark to have been brought to the aquarium staff so far this year. One other shark had also been snagged in local waters, but it died before being brought aboard the fishing boat, Peterson said.

Last year, a juvenile great white that was captured alive off Malibu was held for more than six months in a pen at the Monterey Aquarium, the first time a great white was exhibited successfully. Proceeds from the extra admissions to the aquarium funded a $500,000 Stanford University research project into shark behavior, and raised awareness about the endangered species, Peterson said.

The shark pen off Escondido Beach has not been without controversy. The city of Malibu has expressed mild concerns about the temporary four million gallon, floating pen tethered within city limits one mile off the beach.

"After this summer, we plan to have a town meeting with the aquarium and anyone else who wants to talk about the issue, so nothing will be done behind closed doors," said city Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich in a telephone interview.

Meanwhile, at the aquarium, excitement centers on the arrival of two sea otters and 19 penguins-refugees from the storm-ravaged Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans that will be making Monterey their home.

Source: www.sharktrust.org


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