Aquarium Crew on Local Alert for Live Great White Catches
• Holding Pen Is Back in Malibu with Its Sights Set on a 'Juvie' Shark to Put on Display
BY ANNE SOBLE
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has just reopened what is now the Open Sea exhibit after two years of renovation, and the MBA great white shark field team and holding pen recently returned to local waters to find a juvenile white to put on exhibit.
If a suitable animal is acquired, it would be the sixth young great white shark to be transported to Monterey in the 3000-gallon mobile life-support unit dubbed the "finnebago" and put on public display.
Ken Peterson, the communications director for MBA, told the Malibu Surfside News, "We currently have a young male shark in the holding pen and we are evaluating whether it's an animal we'll tag and release, or whether it's a candidate for our Open Sea exhibit."
Before bringing a young great white shark to Monterey, the members of the aquarium field team monitor its behavior to see if it has adjusted to swimming in an enclosed space. The team offers it salmon, mackerel and other fish, and confirms that the animal is feeding consistently.
As The News went to press, Peterson said that the field team is still assessing the young male shark but he added the team expects to make a decision on its suitability for display "later in the week."
The MBA team plans to remain off the Malibu coast—farther out than in the past—through September. Peterson said the MBA goal is to tag five young sharks this season.
The aquarium staff is working with the Shark Lab at Cal State Long Beach on the field tagging program, and plans to put pop-up satellite tags on the five juvies, as well as acoustic tracking tags.
Peterson said, "The acoustic tags transmit a unique signal that can be picked up by offshore monitoring buoys anytime the shark swims within range and is a way of knowing exactly where a particular shark is at a particular moment."
The buoy network is still being created, Peterson added, and "is more theoretical than actual at the moment, but the batteries used for these tags have a several-year life, and we hope to work with colleagues to establish the monitoring buoys south into Baja California waters."
The last shark on display was a five-foot, three-inch, female white that was caught the summer of 2009 and spent two weeks in the four-million-gallon ocean holding pen.
She was transported to what was then called the Outer Bay exhibit, but did not feed for seven days before starting to eat. She was displayed until Nov. 4.
The fourth shark was put on display during the Labor Day holiday in 2008. Also female, she was small and only ate once at the aquarium. She was released after 11 days because of concern for her well-being.
All sharks previously kept at the aquarium were tagged and tracked after their release. The 2008 shark remained in waters near the Channel Islands off Santa Barbara.
Data from her tag, and observations from a fisherman who later accidentally caught and released her, showed she was doing well. Her tag subsequently was dislodged and there has been no further information on her.
The fifth shark was similarly monitored but illegally caught and taken by a fisherman who was located because of the animal's tracking tag.
Data from young white sharks tagged since the field project began in 2002 have been published in the scientific press, documenting the 26 sharks' use of nearshore waters in California, especially those off Malibu, as "white shark nurseries."
Great white sharks are endangered. They are in decline worldwide, in part because they are slow to reproduce and because of growing fishing pressure that is decimating all shark species. Whites are protected in California and U.S. coastal waters.
Malibu's offshore environment is ideal for fish-eating juvenile whites. They will move to colder waters as they grow and require a diet of seals, sea lions and elephant seals.
In addition to generating record attendance numbers at the aquarium, displayed great whites can help to change public attitudes and lead to support of strong protection for these magnificent and unjustly maligned ocean predators.
Whites are regularly described as the most powerful emissaries for ocean conservation in the sea.