Re: Shark turf battles

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by on March 11, 2005 at 07:55:47:

In Reply to: Shark Kills Two Others in Aquarium posted by on March 10, 2005 at 09:12:52:

Great white shark biting its time at Monterey exhibit

The only great white shark in captivity is behaving like a great white, biting other sharks in Monterey Bay Aquarium's million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit.

Has confinement made the other sharks careless? Or is being in a cage, however big and watery, making the great white really, really hostile, as one shark researcher claims?

Two things are certain: Aquarium attendance is up 30 percent since the great white went on display last fall; and it will eventually be released.

Just not yet.

Randy Kochevar, a marine biologist at the aquarium, said a soupfin shark was bitten Feb. 23; a second was bitten Monday morning. Both died. Two other soupfin sharks have been removed from the Outer Bay tank.

Surveillance tapes indicate that even in water, it's all about turf.

``Our best understanding of what happened,'' said Kochevar, is that ``the soupfin sharks were simply not being mindful of where the white shark was.'' Other creatures in the tank ``tend to keep an eye on her and keep their distance,'' he said.

The aquarium's white shark, caught in a gill net by halibut fishermen off Huntington Beach in August and transferred to Monterey in September, is about a year old, 5 1/2 feet long and weighs 100 pounds. A soupfin, said Kochevar, is ``much less robust.''

It's hard to say whether the attacks represent normal behavior, since the longest any previous white shark lived in captivity was 16 days. But in the wild? ``Absolutely,'' said Kochevar. ``That is completely normal, natural behavior.''

Kochevar said the institution has long heard from members of the public expressing concern over whether ``taking an open-ocean animal and placing it in a confined setting'' is the right thing to do.

``We . . . agree to disagree,'' he said. The aquarium's position is that not only is there much to be learned about the white shark in captivity, but it is ``inspiring'' people to ``maybe think differently'' about a creature made notorious by the movie ``Jaws.''

Kochevar estimates 700,000 people have seen the shark at the aquarium.

And that, said Sean R. Van Sommeran, the executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, is precisely the point. He points out that the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, is a protected species.

``The notion that displaying this animal for profit will somehow increase that protection is bogus,'' he said.

He cited the shark's injured nose as evidence of its new aggression. Kochevar said the injury occurred before the shark arrived.

Kochevar said the intention has always been to release the shark if its health declines, if it gets too big for the exhibit, or if it gets too big to safely transport. A full-grown great white can be 15 feet or longer. ``That's a bigger animal than we can accommodate,'' he said.

Since they grow about one foot a year, he figures that gives Monterey another five or six years before the shark must be freed.

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