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Aussie Scientists Report Continued Success In 'Artificial Uterus' Shark Breeding Program

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PORT STEPHENS, NSW -- Shark scientists from Industry & Investment NSW in Port Stephens have welcomed 14 juvenile wobbegong sharks into the world as part of a research program into the recovery of the endangered grey nurse population.

Industry & Investment NSW research scientists, Dr Megan Ellis and Dr Nick Otway birthed the wobbegong sharks from the world's first artificial uterus where they have completed their embryonic development.

"This is the third successful experiment at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute using this new technology to develop shark embryos outside the mother's body," Dr Ellis said. "The ultimate aim of the technology is to overcome grey nurse shark's intra-uterine cannibalism, where embryos eat each other inside the mother's uteri after hatching reducing the number of pups from 20 to 2.

"We are using wobbegong sharks initially in the artificial uterus as their reproductive cycle, while less complex, has similarities to that of the grey nurse shark and they are not an endangered species.

"Fourteen wobbegong shark embryos were placed in the artificial uterus in July where they spent three months developing into healthy juveniles.

"In contrast to the two previous experiments, the wobbegong embryos were placed in tubes inside the artificial uterus to prevent them from swimming around and detaching from their external yolk sacs which provided them with the nutrients they needed to develop.

"The juvenile's progress inside the artificial uterus was constantly monitored to ensure that they were healthy at all times.

"All 14 wobbegong sharks were successfully 'birthed', weighing between 75.8 grams and 82.5 grams and between 225 and 254 millimetres in length."

Dr Ellis said it is hoped that the artificial uterus technology will one day assist the endangered grey nurse shark population.

"Latest estimates suggest the total population size of grey nurse sharks is less than 1500 individuals," Dr Ellis said.

"It is hoped that the artificial uterus technology may one day be able to be used to assist in the recovery of the grey nurse population."

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