MONTEREY, California -- For the second time, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has placed a young white shark on public exhibit, bringing him to Monterey on Thursday evening (August 31), 14 days after aquarium husbandry collectors caught the shark on hook-and-line gear off Southern California .
As in 2004-2005 – when another white shark was on exhibit for a record 198 days before her successful return to the wild – the aquarium hopes to keep him on long-term exhibit as a way to change public attitudes, and promote stronger protection for this magnificent and much-maligned ocean predator.
The young shark, a 5-foot, 8-inch male weighing 104 pounds, was brought north Thursday in a 3,000-gallon mobile life support transport vehicle. Caught several miles offshore in Santa Monica Bay , he had been held since August 17 in a 4-million-gallon ocean pen off Malibu and was observed feeding in the pen before he was brought to Monterey .
Since 2002, the aquarium through its White Shark Research Project has worked to learn more about white sharks in the wild and to bring a white shark to Monterey for exhibit. During that time, aquarium staff have tagged and tracked seven juvenile white sharks off Southern California – animals either collected by staff biologists or obtained from commercial fishing crews who caught them accidentally in their nets. The first shark kept at the aquarium was also tagged and tracked after her release.
Nearly two years ago, a female white shark became “the most powerful emissary for ocean conservation in our history,” according to aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. The shark was part of the aquarium’s Outer Bay exhibit for six and a half months and was seen by more than a million people between September 15, 2004 and March 30, 2005 – nearly 30 percent more visitors than normal for the period. In follow-up surveys, many visitors reported coming away with a deeper understanding of the need to protect white sharks and their ocean homes.
The unexpected boost in attendance prompted trustees of the nonprofit aquarium to provide an additional $500,000 – for a total of $840,000 since 2002 – for field studies of juvenile and adult white sharks. In the fall of 2005 alone, researchers funded by the aquarium placed electronic tags on 29 adult white sharks off the Farallon Islands and Point Año Nuevo – the largest number ever tagged in this fashion over such a short period. Researchers with the Tagging of Pacific Pelagics (TOPP; www.toppcensus.org) project have now tagged 66 adult white sharks off the Central coast with data-collecting tags.
Data from the tags are offering new insights into the far-ranging travels of white sharks in the eastern Pacific, according to Dr. Barbara Block of Stanford University , a marine biologist and principal investigator with TOPP.
The aquarium continues to collaborate with other research teams to tag young white sharks in southern California waters, and to collect DNA samples for analysis of the population structure of white sharks in California and Mexico.
Aside from the animal that thrived during its 198-day stay in Monterey , no aquarium in the world has ever exhibited a white shark for more than 16 days. There is general agreement in the marine science community that past failures with white sharks at other aquariums resulted from the stress of capture, inability to encourage the sharks to feed, and inadequate exhibit design.
In the Monterey Bay Aquarium project, collecting white sharks has been the subject of a focused multi-year effort involving aquarium husbandry and veterinary staff, scientists and fishermen, said aquarium husbandry curator Jon Hoech. This approach, developed in consultation with an outside panel of shark experts, is designed to minimize the stresses of collection, holding and transport, he said.
Though the aquarium succeeded two years ago in exhibiting a white shark caught accidentally in commercial gear, staff veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray said the husbandry staff prefers to work with sharks it collects itself.
“There are a lot of unknowns with sharks that are bycatch from a commercial fishery,” Dr. Murray said. “We never know how long they’ve been in the net, or to what degree their health is compromised. We have much more confidence that we have a healthy animal to begin with when our team does the collecting.”
During 2006, the aquarium team worked with six white sharks caught accidentally by commercial fishing crews. Three died, one escaped the ocean holding pen, one was released because it proved not to be a candidate for exhibit, and one was tagged in the field and released.
While in the pen, white sharks are monitored to see if they adjust to swimming in an enclosed space. The aquarium’s field team offers food – including salmon filets, mackerel and other fish – and confirms that the shark is feeding before any attempt is made to bring it to Monterey .
At the aquarium, the Outer Bay exhibit was designed specifically to accommodate pelagic (open ocean) animals. It is home to Galapagos and scalloped hammerhead sharks, as well as bluefin tuna weighing 400 pounds or more, yellowfin tuna, barracuda, sea turtles, ocean sunfish and other open ocean species.
The first white shark coexisted with the other animals until February 2005, when she killed two soupfin sharks. On March 28, aquarium biologists saw clear signs that her behavior had changed and she has begun actively hunting other sharks. They returned her to the wild three days later.
During her stay, people not only saw a white shark face-to-face, they learned about shark conservation issues in conversations with staff and volunteer guides; through a question-and-answer auditorium program devoted to the white shark project; in other exhibits that address shark conservation; and through exhibit graphics specifically addressing the threats facing white sharks.
“I can’t overstate the impact of this single animal on advancing our mission to inspire conservation of the oceans,” Packard said.
The public can see the white shark daily through Labor Day from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily beginning September 5. He can also be viewed online via the aquarium’s streaming Outer Bay web cam from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily (Pacific time), at www.montereybayaquarium.org. (Specific link: http://www.mbayaq.org/efc/efc_outerbay/outerbay_cam.asp).
White sharks are in decline worldwide, in part because they’re slow to reproduce and because of growing fishing pressure that is decimating all shark species. White sharks are now a protected species in California and other U.S. coastal waters, as well as in South Africa , Australia , Mexico and other nations. Their fearsome reputation has also made them a target of trophy hunters and the curio trade.
In October 2004, white sharks were granted additional protection by the 166 nations that are parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna (CITES).
The aquarium presents strong shark conservation messages in many of its live exhibits, including the permanent “Vanishing Wildlife” gallery and in “Sharks: Myth and Mystery,” an award-winning special exhibition that closes on Labor Day, September 4.
The shark put on exhibit by the aquarium in 2004-2005 was the subject of controversy, highlighted by the publication of photos by Underwatertimes that showed the deteriorating health of the shark. The photos showed the shark's nose had been ground down into a blunt end, with an open wound clearly visible.
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