January 6, 2009

Live Online Necropsy Of Great White Shark

Scientists in New Zealand are gearing up to perform a necropsy on a 10ft great white shark.

The dissection will be conducted in front of about 1,000 members of the public and streamed live online.

The great white's organs will be investigated during the necropsy at Auckland Museum this Thursday where scientists hope to expand on their limited knowledge of one of the ocean's most mysterious inhabitants.

"It's very exciting, we've never done anything like this in front of the public before," said Tom Trnski, marine curator at Auckland Museum.

"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 harbor."

Trnski and Clinton Duffy, a shark researcher with the NZ Department of Conservation, will 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.

The NZ scientists hope to find marine objects inside the shark that may better determine the great white's standard diet.

"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," said Trnski, 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 10ft, 660 pound female great white was accidentally caught by a local fisherman after it had become entangled in a gill net in Auckland's Kaipara Harbor on Monday last week.

The large shark was initially attracted by the large schools of trevally and had actually been caught alive the previous day and released by the fisherman. It died in the net, however, once it was returned to the sea.

The shark's dissection will occur in an open amphitheatre at the Auckland Museum where scientists will examine its stomach content, measure its internal organs and record all their findings for international shark research.

An estimated 1000 people at the museum are expected to witness the operation and it will be streamed live on its website to be viewed by millions more.

The conservation department will dispose of the shark's carcass, while the museum plans to keep its jaws for display and tissue and DNA samples for future research.

Great white sharks are most commonly found in New Zealand and Australia, where they are a protected species due to their dwindling populations. However, authorities may kill them if they are a threat to human life.

The shark dissection comes after weeks of recent shark sightings around New Zealand and Australia.

A 51-year-old man went missing last month while snorkeling off a beach in Western Australia, hours after a 14ft great white shark was seen thrashing about in the water where he disappeared. No trace of him has since been found.

In Sydney, thousands of beachgoers had to evacuate the water at four beaches after shark alarms were set off. A helicopter spotted two hammerhead sharks feeding on squid near where swimmers were bathing, but no injuries were reported.


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