Monterey Bay Aquarium staff are reeling from the sudden death of a young great white shark that had been on exhibit the past few months and was released into the wild last week.
“This is a very difficult day for all of us, and for everyone who saw and cared about this animal,” the aquarium’s director of husbandry, Jon Hoech, said in a statement released by aquarium officials Wednesday.
Aquarium staff had collected the shark off the coast of Marina del Rey on Aug. 18 to conduct research and educate the public about the threats the animals face in the wild.
The 4-foot, 10-inch, 52-pound male shark–the sixth great white shark to be exhibited in the aquarium’s million-gallon Open Sea exhibit–was released after 55 days on exhibit, according to aquarium officials.
“We had every confidence that he’d do well back in the wild,” Hoech said. “Unfortunately, that’s not how things turned out. We’re surprised and saddened by the outcome.”
The shark was transported from the aquarium to Goleta in Santa Barbara County on Oct. 25, where it was released that afternoon. Hoech said the shark appeared fine as it swam out of sight.
Aquarium staff veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray said the decision to release the shark was based on changes in how well it navigated the exhibit.
“While we determined it was best not to keep him on exhibit any longer, we had no reservations about whether the shark would do well in the wild,” Murray said. “That’s why his death is both distressing and puzzling.”
The shark’s electronic monitoring tag popped free on Saturday and began transmitting its stored data on Sunday.
Aquarium staff that afternoon retrieved the tag, which was delivered to the aquarium’s white shark team on Tuesday for analysis.
In the coming weeks, aquarium staff will review its procedures and protocols, retracing its steps to determine what, if anything, went wrong.
Aquarium officials said it is the first death among the six young sharks that have been on exhibit since 2004. Project White Shark started in 2002 and has tracked and tagged 47 juvenile great white sharks off the Southern California coast, according to the aquarium.
“Our animal care staff is unrivaled in its knowledge of young great white sharks,” aquarium managing director Jim Hekker said. “This is a difficult time for all of us.”
Patricia Decker, Bay City News
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