GWS at MBA passes 100 day mark


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Posted by on December 23, 2004 at 09:31:01:

<>Shark hits 100th day at grateful aquarium
Great white adds to survival record -- and to gross receipts

Monterey -- It's 100 days and counting, and the great white shark is still swimming around in circles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and chowing down on her $20-a-pound salmon filets.

She remains -- miracle of miracles -- very much alive.

Every day that she fails to go belly up, the nameless shark sets a record for longevity in captivity. This makes the Monterey Bay Aquarium a very happy place. Ticket sales have doubled, shark merchandise sells swimmingly, "great white" wine has been added to the restaurant menu, an entire gift store has been converted from selling jellyfish trinkets to shark trinkets, and the children's craft center is churning out 200 crayon-decorated paper shark hats a day.

"I'm seeing paper shark hats in my sleep,'' said Nancy Hamilton, the woman in charge of the crayons.

And still the shark continues to make the rounds inside the three-story- high Outer Bay tank, where she has been joined by a school of 1,000 very nervous sardines that do not seem particularly pleased with the arrangement but are in no position to argue.

So far, the shark has exhibited a sweet demeanor and has not eaten any of her tankmates, possibly because she continues to be fed high-priced, line- caught salmon fillet with all the annoying bones removed -- the same stuff that gets served to the humans in the aquarium restaurant. She also gets mackerel but, being a discriminating shark, doesn't care for it quite so much.

"No question she prefers the salmon,'' shark keeper Scott Reid said. "Who wouldn't?''

All this week, the aquarium is celebrating the shark's 100th day in residence with free souvenir bookmarks and "I saw her!'' shark postcards.

The marketing folks have been hustling as hard as the shark. Bring back the postcard next month (and buy another $20 admission ticket), and get a free full-color shark poster. Next month, the price of children's tickets goes up $2 each, which demonstrates that the shark is not the only species doing the gobbling.

Ever since the year-old shark arrived at the aquarium Sept. 15 after accidentally being netted by a halibut fisherman off the Orange County coast, she has gained weight, and her cuts and scrapes from the fishing net have healed to a healthy gray. There's still a silver-dollar-size abrasion on her snout that has come from bumping into the walls of her tank, and she's getting antibiotics for that.

She's eating about a pound of fish a day, and the shark keepers maintain a close watch on her appetite. If it starts to lag, it could be a sign that her health is deteriorating. In that case, she would be whisked back to the ocean, because the last thing the aquarium wants on its rap sheet is a floating shark.

But that hasn't happened, and the shark seems to have settled in to her digs. Every day, she betters the old record of 16 days in captivity set by a Sea World shark some 20 years ago. And every day, thousands of shark fans head from the front gate directly to her tank and gaze long and hard through the seamless glass wall.

Docents circle the viewing area, answering question after question ("about 70 pounds ... about 5 feet long ... no, the one in the movie was a robot''), and security guards enforce the no-flash-photography rule to protect the shark's sweet, misunderstood, remorseless eyes.

Kids push their noses against the glass and need to be dragged away.

"I think she's a little happy and a little sad,'' said Maria Yodice, 6, of San Jose. "She likes the ocean better. The ocean's not a cage.''

"But she doesn't have to worry about fishermen anymore,'' pointed out her pal, 10-year-old Spencer Marquiss of San Jose. "She's safer here. She doesn't have to worry about anything.''

And it seems as long as she keeps swimming, neither does the aquarium, which has taken to peddling such stuff as $15 shark boxer shorts, $70 neon shark lamps, $3 shark bottle openers, $35 shark silk scarves, $70 shark puppets, $13 shark thermal coffee mugs, and a dozen models of plush toy sharks, each more cuddly than the last.

"We don't sell that much jellyfish stuff anymore,'' said Amanda Zuberbier, the clerk of the store that was converted from jellies to sharks. "It's all sharks, sharks, sharks.''



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