Bayworld sharks’ 19-year ‘sentence’ ends

Guy Rogers

THE biggest, baddest pair from Bayworld’s decommissioned aquarium, two bulky ragged-tooth sharks, were released back into the sea yesterday. (26/07/2011)

It was a sad day for Port Elizabeth’s oceanarium, where they have lived for 19 years, inspiring awe in hundreds of thousands of visitors.

But it is good news for the species, as the pair are now part of a research project aimed at securing South African waters as one of the few safe havens in the world for raggies.

Besides a dozen penguins which may be retained for a permanent education exhibit, the sharks were the last animals to be moved from the oceanarium to allow work to begin on its “re-imaging and rebuilding phase”.

The sharks were caught off the north side of the harbour wall, and they were released yesterday at the same spot (now occupied by the Knysna Oyster Company) after being transported through Port Elizabeth’s streets in oxygenated crates on the bank of a flatbed truck.

The operation was coordinated by senior South African oceanarium specialist Dr Tony McEwan.

The first step yesterday was to pull the plug in the holding tank which the sharks have been sharing with one small remora sucker fish which has been a life-long companion of the female raggie. Three-quarters of the water was released and at the same time oxygen was pumped in to ensure the animals could continue breathing comfortably.

Anaesthetic was emptied into this remaining water and, after 15 minutes, it had been taken in through the sharks’ gills and they were sluggish enough to allow McEwan and his team, including Bayworld shark specialists Malcolm Smale and Matt Dicken and aquarium curator Steve Warren, to clamber into the tank with them.

Using a canvas partition, they separated the animals and manoeuvred the smaller, 120kg, 2.45m male onto a stretcher, where it was tagged.

With their tags firmly in place, the sharks were hoisted off the truck by a crane and lowered into the cold sea. Warren said he was satisfied they would be able to hunt for themselves because, although they had been fed in the oceanarium, they had often snaffled some of their fellow residents to supplement their diet.

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