Saturday, September 01, 2007

Great White shark held captive in pen

One mile off Malibu, there's a great white shark. But there's no need to worry, he's trapped in a four-million gallon ocean pen and may eventually be put on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
It's an ambitious project. Their goal is to inspire conservation of this incredible and threatened species.

In a giant pen off the coast of Malibu, lurks one of the most mysterious creatures on Earth, a great white shark.

"I think it's that primal fear, it really comes back to that," Dr. Chris Lowe, CSULB Marine Biologist said.

This great white is a baby, less than one year old. Fishing crews off Ventura netted the shark by mistake earlier this month.

"So the shark in the pen is about four feet, ten inches long, we're not positive about the weight but it's probably in the 50 to 60 pound range," Ken Peterson, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said.
The shark is being monitored closely, to determine if he's a good candidate to be displayed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

"We want to make sure that it's navigating well in the pen so we know that it can swim in a confined area and do well in that space and also want to make sure that it's eating," Peterson said.

If marine biologists decide the shark is a good candidate, then he'll soon follow the route of another young great white, caught off our coast last summer.

The aquarium carefully trucked him up north in a virtual aquarium on wheels. On display for 137 days, he was seen by hundreds of thousands of people before biologists released him back into the wild.

"I think they're great ambassadors for sharks to people," Lowe said.

Lowe is part of the aquarium's rapid response team. When a white shark is caught off our coast, they spring into action.

Sharks that aren't a good candidate for the exhibit are fit with satellite or acoustic tags and released back into the ocean.

"And the goal is to try to get a better picture of where they may go at different times of the year," Lowe said.

And to learn where they feed, and where they breed.

Lowe says you're far more likely to run into a baby white shark off our coast, than its full-grown, more menacing parents. But that's not always true.

"And it happened so fast, yeah it's extremely frightening," Joe Everett, a lifeguard, said.

Everett had his own close encounter with a great white during a paddleboard race off Malibu just a few weeks ago.

"It was ominous and gray and black and something I'd rather not see again," Everett said.

The ten to 12-foot-long shark was tracking another paddleboarder in the race, trying to knock him off his board. After a terrifying struggle, the men managed to scare the great white off, and then finish the race.

"I can assure you that if the shark was hungry or wanted to eat one of us he would have," Everett said.

Still, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed every year just for their fins, experts agree on one thing.

"Sharks definitely have more to fear from humans than we do from them," Lowe said.

If biologists decide the baby white shark in the pen can be safely displayed, he'll be the third white shark to be exhibited at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The previous two were eventually returned to the wild. We'll keep you posted.


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