Dead in the Water: Monterey's next Great White

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Posted by on June 23, 2005 at 20:45:56:

White shark, intended to be the Aquarium’s newest visitor, dies in open ocean holding pen.

he Monterey Bay Aquarium’s lauded white shark project took a tragic turn when a female juvenile shark died in captivity last Friday.

The roughly five foot long, 60-pound shark, which had been captured by a gill-net fisherman on June 13, was found dead in the project’s open ocean holding pen on the morning of June 17, according to Dr. Randy Kochevar, the aquarium’s science communications manager.

“On Monday of last week, another shark was caught by a gill-netter, but our holding pen was not in place yet,” Kochevar says. “As a result, the shark was transported to a holding pool at the Southern California Marine Institute,” on Terminal Island in the Los Angeles Harbor.

At some point during its stay in SCMI’s 20-foot wide and 25-foot deep pool, the shark suffered an injury to its eye, effectively prohibiting the team from tagging and releasing the animal.

“At this point we have no idea how the injury was incurred,” Kochevar says. “We had, however, been considering tagging and releasing it when it got injured.”

SCMI’s pool, which has been successfully used to house a white shark for three-and-a-half days in the past, according to Kochevar, was only intended to be a temporary stopover until the four-million-gallon, open-ocean holding pen could be made operational.

“Our field season didn’t officially begin until June 15,” Kochevar says. “That’s when we wanted to be in the field and fully operational, so the shark was actually captured just a couple days in advance of the field season.”

On June 16, after the shark had been in the SCMI pool for three days, the team moved the injured white shark by boat to the open ocean holding pen.

“The next morning, when the diver went into the pen to check on the shark, he found the animal had perished,” Kochevar says. “We just got the results from the necropsy and we’re looking for a specific cause, but for the time being the cause of death is unknown.”

The shark’s death comes on the heels of the most successful white shark project in history, which saw the Aquarium’s team successfully capture and exhibit a similarly sized female white shark for a record 198 days before releasing it alive and healthy back to the wild on March 31.

The first shark’s presence prompted aquarium attendance to increase by 30 percent, with 43 percent of customers saying that the shark influenced their decision to visit. This shark’s success also convinced Aquarium officials to earmark an additional $500,000 in funding for its fourth field season—a season that may suddenly be in jeopardy.

“I don’t think it’s going to change any plans,” Kochevar says. “We’ve got a half-million in funding to expand the tracking and tagging research we want to get done this summer. And we still want to—given the right opportunity—bring an animal up here.

“It’s part of working with animals, especially when working with animals like these that we’re not entirely sure the ins and outs of. I just hope people can understand that this is part of the process.”

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