A pregnant Caribbean Reef shark was found dead near the pier at Spotts public beach this past weekend.
Witnesses who found the shark said the animal looked to have been dragged down the dock, according to Marine Conservation International researcher Oliver Dubock.
Cayman Islands Department of Environment staff responded to the call and found the animal missing its tail and its stomach spat out.
“Many species of shark are known to be able to do this,” said Mr. Dubock. “It is thought to be a response to stress as well as a method of ridding the stomach of indigestible material such as bone.”
Due to its missing tail, it was nearly impossible to take any accurate measures of the animal, although DoE researchers estimate the shark to have been approximately six and a half feet long.
The Department of Environment took tissue samples for DNA analysis as well as a number of teeth from the top and lower jaw of the shark to gauge the age of the animal.
“On seeing the shark for the first time it was obvious that she was quite large and possibly pregnant,” Mr. Dubock said.
After cutting open the belly of the shark, DoE staff extracted four perfectly formed pups, two male and two female.
“Based on the size of the pups, it is likely the shark was only a few weeks to a month away from giving birth,” he added. “This species of shark is known to have between three to six pups each litter. It is also known that the gestation period for this species is one year, however they only breed once every two years.”
These sharks do not reach sexual maturity until they are around five to five and a half feet in length. This species does not grow much longer than six or seven feet.
The unborn pups were taken to the lab at the Department of Environment for further analysis.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources classified Caribbean Reef sharks as being ‘near threatened’ after their assessment of the species in 2006.
“This means that this species may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future, however it does not currently qualify for the threatened status,” Mr. Dubock said. “The IUCN also states that the high importance of re-evaluating ‘near threatened’ species as often as possible due to their vulnerable susceptibility.”
Mr. Dubock said this species of shark is known to be timid and fearful of humans, far from being dangerous, and is actually beneficial for a healthy reef system.
The DoE urges people to release any shark caught alive.
He said that many species are continually being killed and are thus facing extinction on local and global scales.
“It is becoming widely accepted that all shark species have a key role to play in the marine system and the removal of these animals can cause drastic alterations to biodiversity,” he said.
“It is incredibly sad that this shark had to die,” he added. “It is likely that we will never know the reason, but for the cost of a length of line and fishing lure five animals would still be alive today.
“Furthermore, research has shown that shark tourism in the Bahamas brings in US$78 million each year. A single live shark in the Bahamas is calculated to be worth US$200,000 in revenue over its lifetime, compared to the revenue generated from meat sales of a shark, which is approximately US$50 in this region.”
For more information, call Janice Blumenthal at 949-8469 or visit the Department of Environment website at www.doe.ky