Shark pair get a bite at freedom
Cape Town - Two ragged-tooth sharks swam to freedom off Gordon’s Bay on Thursday as part of a release programme by the Two Oceans Aquarium.
After travelling to Gordon’s Bay in a huge truck marked “Shark in transit!”, the 40kg male shark was placed in a large blue tarp by aquarium staff members. A crane was used to transfer the wobbling bundle into a container aboard a small boat.
The shark was given a tranquilliser for the trip from Cape Town, but staff pumped seawater into the container so he would be alert for his release.
“Then he’ll be gone in seconds,” said aquarium spokeswoman Renée Leeuwner.
Two staff members stood in the container with the shark to see to his welfare on the boat ride, while others steadied the vessel. The boat cruised slowly about two nautical miles from the shore to avoid jostling the precious cargo.
After finding a spot with appropriate water quality and depth, aquarium personnel hoisted the shark over the side. Two staff members in wetsuits slipped into the water to ease the shark into freedom.
There was a moment of confusion, then the shark floundered out of the tarp and disappeared into the depths.
Staff cheered, and shouts of “go boy, go!” echoed across the bay.
Aquarium personnel repeated the process with the larger female – the boat did not have enough room for the two sharks at once.
Named Kay, the female weighs 207kg. Her fins poked out of the sides of the tarp during her entire journey, giving the distinct impression of a shark burrito. After she was unrolled, she swam quickly away.
The sharks are expected to join a larger migration of ragged-tooth sharks in the area. Aquarium staff have attached radio tags which give off a signal so their movements can be monitored.
Releasing sharks back into the wild is part of the Two Oceans Aquarium philosophy. Leeuwner said releases meant the animals were not constantly in captivity, and helped with conservation efforts. Viable females, like Kay, could continue to breed.
Eight sharks have been released from the aquarium since 2004.
The male shark came from the Pretoria Zoo. The Two Oceans Aquarium and the zoo have an exchange programme whereby the aquarium loans the zoo juvenile ragged-tooth sharks for two years, and then the zoo sends them back for release. Two Oceans does not keep male sharks.
Leeuwner said Kay had been an “iconic” part of the I&J Predator Exhibit. She has been replaced with a smaller female.
Quite a crowd was drawn to the spectacle, with about 40 onlookers snapping photos as the sharks were lowered into the boat.
“Sharks are an enigma,” Leeuwner said. “It’s good for the people to see them.” - Cape Argus