A young white shark caught inadvertently in commercial sea bass fishing nets is on exhibit in a California aquarium, in hopes that a few months in captivity will help raise awareness about the plight of the species. Known popularly as "great white sharks" -- the species of "Jaws" fame -- they are known to science only as "white sharks."
White sharks are in decline worldwide, in part because they''re slow to reproduce and because of growing fishing pressure that is decimating all shark species. Their fearsome reputation has also made them a target of trophy hunters and the curio trade.
This is the third white shark displayed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the second that came to the aquarium after being caught as "bycatch" in commercial nets. Bycatch is an important source of death among threatened species, as fishing techniques often employ large-scale nets, hooks or bottom trawlers that catch more species than were intended. Often, these fish, turtles and other sea life are separated out from the commercial "harvest," and left for dead in the open ocean.
After being displayed, it will be released, and its movements tracked remotely. Scientists use radio- and satellite-operable tags to track the movements of fish, and it's one of the few ways to learn about the movements and habits of fish populations.
Recent studies have revealed white shark nursery areas near California and Mexico, and have also revealed how populations of sharks group together and travel -- important pieces of information for any future conservation plans for the imperiled species.
The shark on display is a 4-foot, 9-inch male shark that weighs 67.5 pounds. Held for three weeks in a 4-million-gallon pen in Malibu since being caught, he was trucked in a 3,000-gallon mobile life support transport truck to the aquarium, which is famous for its programs to preserve ocean life and increase awareness of threats to ocean ecology.
The aquarium's $1 million White Shark Research Project has focused since 2002 on the species, by tagging and tracking 10 juvenile white sharks off Southern California. The shark on display will be released with tags so its movements can be tracked in the future.
Some 1.6 million people saw the two white sharks that the aquarium has displayed since 2004. Web visitors can see the shark online via the aquarium''s streaming Outer Bay web cam from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. (PT) daily at www.montereybayaquarium.org.
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