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Hurricane Spawns Shark-mating Frenzy; 'They Decided to Begin Copulating'

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WEST PALM BEACH, Florida -- When Wilma swept through the area, knocking out power to the museum's McGinty Aquarium for several hours, the pair of white-spotted bamboo sharks knew what to do when the lights went out, and when they came back on.

"The mating was ferocious," said aquarium curator Lee Dashiell. "Every day for two weeks. Who knows what they did at night when we went home."

When the aquarium's rockin', don't come knockin'.

Six weeks later, Dec. 6, the female began laying eggs two at a time for five days. (Other shark species bear live young.) That came as a surprise because the 8-year-old shark hadn't laid eggs for two years and was thought to be past the breeding age.

"There's not scientific evidence that hurricanes spawn baby booms, but here it is," Dashiell said. "Under the stress of the storm, without electricity (to pump oxygen through the aquarium), they decided to begin copulating."

Only one of the 10 eggs was fertilized, but it's doing well. The egg case is covered with brown tendrils that cling to rocks on the ocean floor, blending into the surroundings. In this case, it clings to the side of a small aquarium off the main floor.

Sharks are hands-off parents. "Once the eggs are laid, there's no parental care," Dashiell said.

The egg is transparent and the long-tailed embryo can be seen wiggling around the yolk, on which it feeds. The embryo develops into a shark pup in two to 15 months, depending on the water temperature, and emerges a 6-inch shark.

Bamboo sharks are no angry, 20-foot, tourist-munching eating machines with their own dum-dum-DUM-dum theme songs. They're slender and long-tailed, reaching 3 feet at maturity and spend mind-their-own-business lives along the Pacific coral reefs near Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and India, foraging for shrimp, crab and other invertebrates.

Bamboos live an average of eight to 10 years, and can survive up to 20 if they live in captivity.

They're docile bottom-feeders, content to blend into the background, except in their undersea bedrooms.

"Sex is rough in the shark world," Dashiell said. The male often bites the female to hold her still.

"People have run up to us and said the sharks are eating each other," said museum spokeswoman Elizabeth Dashiell. "We know immediately what they are doing." Make love, not lunch.

The female bears the scars of many couplings: bent fins and gouged-out eyes. Fortunately, sight is not essential to white-spotted bamboo sharks. "It would be like us losing our sense of smell," Lee Dashiell said.

The female stores the sperm until she manufactures eggs, two at a time. She becomes obviously pregnant, her underside swollen with two rows of eggs.

"She had similar characteristics to mammals. She was cranky and demanding," Lee Dashiell said. Three years ago, 18 shark pups emerged from 23 eggs. Four of the pups remain.

While the sharks enjoyed Wilma, a pufferfish named Pig Boy and a green moray eel dubbed Kermit died when a generator failed for several hours during the storm. Pig Boy was the largest in captivity and both took part in behavioral studies on fish intelligence. The museum is seeking more donors to help replenish the Atlantic reef aquarium.

Museum officials expect the bamboo shark pup to emerge from the egg in late March or early April. If it's a male it will be named Wil and if a female, of course, Wilma.

source: http://www.palmbeachpost.com

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