The following advertizing supplement appeared in "The
Times" Monterey Carmel Santa Cruz
The Monterey Bay Aquarium has added an oceanic whitetip shark to its million-gallon Outer Bay exhibit, becoming the only aquarium in the world to feature one of the most efficient and wide-ranging predators found in the open ocean.
The female shark was collected by aquarium staff off Baja California on a trip that also brought in yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi- (dolphinfish) and pilotfish. The shark, which is five feet long and weighs 50 pounds, is navigating the 90-foot-long by 54-foot-wide by 35-foot-deep exhibit without problem, according to Husbandry Director Randy Hamilton.
She has even acquired an entourage of pilotfish, black-and-white striped scavengers that often accompany sharks in the wild, waiting to feed on scraps from sharks' meals. There are currently no other oceanic whitetip sharks on exhibit at any aquarium in the world.
One institution in Indonesia has kept oceanic whitetip sharks in the past, and a Hawaiian aquarium kept one behind the scenes but did not place it on exhibit. Of the 360 species of sharks on Earth, only a handful are considered dangerous to humans. The oceanic whitetip is near the top of the list. (Jacques Cousteau has described it as "the most dangerous of all sharks.")
Because oceanic whitetips live far from shore, they haven't been involved in coastal shark attacks like their more famous cousin, the great white. But they're considered to be a threat to shipwreck survivors or combat pilots shot down at sea. They were implicated in the deaths of hundreds following the World War II sinkings of the Nova Scotia, off South Africa, and the USS Indianapolis, in the Philippine Sea. (The latter ship delivered the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.)
Like all sharks, oceanic whitetips take several years to reach reproductive age and often are caught and killed inadver5tently by commercial longline crews going after swordfish and tuna. Although oceanic whitetips are today considered to be abundant, they face threats in the future as fishing pressure increases worldwide.
"Prices for shark fins have gone through the roof in the last 10 years," said aquarium biologist Manny Ezcurra, who was part of the team that collected and transported the shark to the aquarium. "Animals that were once released as bycatch are now being targeted."
Ezcurra said staff members also hope to learn whether whitetips grow at the same rate at the aquarium as they do in the wild. Researchers have conducted similar growth-rate studies on other sharks since the aquarium opened in 1984. And, said aquarium biologist Dr. Randy Kochevar, "We hope that when people get a chance to see a magnificent shark up close like this, they'll start to think of it as something worth protecting."
The oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) is found worldwide in warmer surface waters of the open ocean. In North America, it ranges from southern California to the tropics, and from Georges Bank to the Gulf of Mexico. It's strictly an open ocean (pelagic) species, and is one of the most common sharks in warm oceanic water. Adults range in length from five to 10 feet and can weight more than 150 pounds. Individuals as long as 13 feet have been recorded. It feeds on fast-swimming fishes, including tunas, squid, barracuda and marlin, as well as on whale carcasses and even garbage. It bears live young in litters of one to 15 ups, with larger females producing larger-size litters.
More information about oceanic whitetip sharks is available online at http://www.ncf.carleton.ca/~bz050/whitetip.html.