January 6, 2009
A penguin, a seal, or even a human hand – what would you expect to find in the stomach of a great white shark?
Scientists in New Zealand are about to discover just that when they perform a necropsy on a 10ft great white shark –believed to be the first of its kind, conducted in front of about 1,000 members of the public and streamed live online.
The shark will be dissected and its organs investigated during the necropsy at Auckland Museum this Thursday where scientists hope the operation will help add to their limited knowledge of one of the ocean’s least known about animals.
“It’s very exciting, we’ve never done anything like this in front of the public before,” Tom Trnski, marine curator at Auckland Museum, told Times Online.
“It’s a rare opportunity for us. Little is known about the life history of these apex predators of the ocean, and we hope to learn more about the shark’s recent past before it came into the harbour.”
Mr Trnski will join Clinton Duffy, a shark researcher with the NZ department of Conservation to perform the two-hour long necropsy – which is similar to an autopsy but whose purpose is for research, not to discover the cause of death.
Unlike the famous scene in the shark horror film Jaws where Richard Dreyfuss cuts open a menacing great white to discover a car licence plate and a crushed tin, the NZ scientists hope to find objects of the (previously) living marine variety.
“We’re interested in the gut content to see what the shark has eaten – it could be anything from seals, penguins, fish or even whale blubber,” Mr Trnski said, adding that the female’s reproductive organs will also be investigated.
“We’re certainly hoping not to find any human bits inside, but you never know.”
The shark, an adolescent female which measures 10ft and weighs 660 pounds, was accidentally caught by a local fisherman after it had become entangled in a gill net in Auckland’s Kaipara Harbour on Monday last week.
Attracted by the large schools of trevally, the large shark had actually been caught alive the previous day and released by the fisherman, only for it to return to its death in the net.
The scientists will dissect the shark in an open amphitheatre at the Auckland Museum and examine its stomach content, measure its internal organs and record all their findings for international shark research.
The operation will watched by an estimated 1000 people at the museum and streamed live on its website (www.aucklandmuseum.com
) to be viewed by millions more.
The shark’s carcass will be disposed of by the conservation department, while the museum plans to keep its jaws for display and tissue and DNA samples for future research.
Great white sharks are a protected species in both New Zealand and Australia (where they are most commonly found), because of their dwindling populations. However they may be killed by authorities if they kill or are a threat to human life.
The dissection of this shark comes after weeks of recent shark sightings around New Zealand and Australia.
Last month 51-year-old Brian Guest went missing while snorkelling off a beach in Western Australia just after a 14ft great white shark was seen thrashing about in the water where he disappeared. No trace of him has since been found.
And just last weekend thousands of beachgoers had to evacuate the water at four beaches in Sydney’s east after shark alarms were set off. A helicopter spotted two hammerhead sharks feeding on squid near where swimmers were bathing, but no-one was injured.