Monterey Herald Aug. 2, 1990

Passive prickly shark becomes aquarium's shark of the week

By Thom Akeman, Herald Staff Writer

The fist prickly shark in captivity went on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Thursday.

The unique catch was swimming slowly in the same tank that holds the largest sevengill shark in the world, a fish found off Northern California last week.

The prickly shark - which could be described as having the face of an old man and a wide body shaped like a cargo plane - was caught off Moss Landing on Tuesday night.

It was swimming near the mouth of the Monterey Submarine Canyon, said John O'Sullivan, head of collections for the aquarium. O'Sullivan and Tom Okey, a graduate student at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, found the prickly shark while diving 80 to 120 feet (24-37 m) under the ocean's surface, O'Sullivan said.

The large shark was very passive while O'Sullivan put a hook in its mouth and signaled the crew in an aquarium boat to reel it in, he said.

The newest catch is a female that measures 6 feet 8 inches (2.03 m) and weighs an estimated 150 pounds (68 kg).

Little is know about prickly sharks because they are so rare and biologists have never had a live one to observe.

Dave Powell, the aquarium's directory of husbandry, said he has never seen one of the unusual sharks alive. He called the aquarium's newest captive "a great opportunity" for learning.

"Nobody knows anything about it," explained Craig Racicot, the aquarium's photographer. "We're not sure what they eat. The only thing we know is what we can take out of the stomach of those that are dead.

Prickly sharks are deep-water fish that can live at depths of 3200 feet (975 m). They are bottom dweller that sometimes visit the heads of submarine canyons.

Fisherman have occasionally caught them off the piers at Moss Landing, so they are known to into shallow water.

They have been recorded along the coast from Monterey to Baja California, near Peru, Hawaii, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan.

The species is named for protruding spines on the scales of the upper bodies.

But in the aquarium's 330,000 gallon display tank, the dominant feature of the prickly shark is an extra dorsal fin. It has two dorsal fins near its large tail, a configuration that sticks up like the peaks of a mountain range.

The prickly shark is easy to spot in the tank called Monterey Bay Habitats. It is wide-bodied, not as sleek and torpedo-shaped as the smaller sharks in the tank. It is rear-heavy, with the two dorsal fins on top and pelvic fins that spread out like a stingray underneath, near the large, V-shaped tail.

The shark is dark gray with white streaks on the top that make it look something like one of the rocks of Pebble Beach.

Its eyes look around and its mouth opens a little to show the teeth under its huge nose. With those features and the rough skin on its nose and neck, the prickly shark's face resembles that of some very old people.

There is a large scar on its right side, which may have been cause during mating, the aquarium's staff said.

The prickly shark swims slowly and can command attention by its size.

The only fish bigger in the aquarium tank is the sevengill shark brought in last week - the 9-foot-10-inch (3 m, over the curve), 350 pound (159 kg) record holder. It looks like a small whale swimming among the fish and puffins in the tank.

The sevengill shark was believed to be pregnant last week when the aquarium's staff announced its presence. In addition to being a record size, it was said to the first pregnant sevengill shark in captivity.

But now the aquarium's staff isn't so sure the large shark is pregnant, staff members said on Thursday. There may be no way of knowing until babies appear or, in time, don't, they said.

The aquarium is getting ready for a special exhibit on sharks. The exhibit is scheduled to open in January, after the facility marks its sixth anniversary.

Various and unusual sharks from around are to be featured in the special exhibit.

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