Baby zebra sharks, named Charlie and Kathlyn, are the first of 500 set to be released in the first-ever effort to revive an endangered shark species.
Organizations from 15 countries are working to bring 500 zebra sharks back to their native waters in Indonesia, where they are believed to have gone extinct.
This giant undertaking is constructing a nursery in Raja Ampat, where eggs are being shipped and developed, allowing pups to swim freely into their new home, according to National Geographic.
Zebra sharks have nearly disappeared around the archipelago in the West Papua province of Indonesia due to overfishing – only three zebra sharks have been seen in the area from 2001 through 2021.
A pair of baby zebra sharks, named Charlie and Kathlyn (the shark), is the first of 500 set to rewild in the first-ever effort to revive an endangered shark species
‘It’s such a milestone,’ Nesha Ichida, an Indonesian marine scientist helping manage this work for ReShark, told National Geographic.
‘This is such a hopeful, momentous moment.’
The effort is ReShark and pulls inspiration from other rewilding programs that saw California condors and China’s giant pandas be reintroduced – but this is the first to do so with animals in the sea.
The group includes 44 aquariums and 70 organizations and released the two sharks in January, with more set through the year.
Raja Ampat was selected due to its globally acclaimed conservation success as Asia’s first shark and ray sanctuary, bolstered by a healthy and well-managed network of nine marine protected areas (MPAs).
National Geographic photographers Jennifer Hayes and her husband David Doubilet documented this effort in Raja Ampat.
The eggs, called mermaid purses, are bred in laboratories and then sent to hatcheries in Indonesia, where they hatch and are cared for by ‘shark nannies,’ a team that nurtures the babies until they are strong enough for the wild.
Like Kathlyn and Charlie, future zebra shark pups will be released into Marine Protected Areas patrolled by conservation rangers and monitored by scientists.
However, the team understands that reintroduction can also fail – juvenile sharks are prone to disease, predators and struggle to find food on their own.
The eggs, called mermaid purses, are bred in laboratories and then sent to hatcheries in Indonesia, where they hatch and are cared for by ‘shark nannies,’ a team that nurtures and cares for the babies until they are strong enough for the wild
Organizations from 15 countries are working to release 500 zebra sharks back to their native waters in Indonesia, where they had gone extinct
This is why the team aims to send at least 500 zebra sharks swimming into the Indonesian waters.
When the first pups were released in January, a crowd went to the coast to see the epic event – including actor Harrison Ford.
Before letting Charlie leave her hands, Ichida said goodbye to the shark, hoping it would spark a movement to restore ocean predators.
‘I’m feeling very hopeful that Charlie is going to be the ambassador’ for all shark species, she said, letting Charlie slip away.
‘Like everyone else, Ford stood in the crowd and held up a phone to document the scene himself,’ National Geographic reports.
Like Kathlyn and Charlie (the shark), future zebra shark pups will be released into Marine Protected Areas patrolled by conservation rangers and monitored by scientists
The success of this program could lead to saving more shark species, as scientists revealed in 2021 that nearly 40 percent of all sharks and rays are near extinction.
The findings, which span eight years, show that the number of sharks, rays and chimaera – a group known as chondrichthyan fish – threatened with extinction has doubled to 32.6 percent since 2014.
Eight years ago, 24 percent of species were estimated as threatened.
The researchers note that overfishing is the primary driver of the population loss among the species, but habitat loss, climate change and pollution are also to blame.
‘Habitat loss and degradation compound overfishing for nearly one-fifth of threatened species,’ the researchers wrote in the study.
‘Climate change is a rapidly emerging concern for threatened chondrichthyans and compounds the effects of overfishing and habitat loss for 6.1 percent of species.
Climate change is not only causing ‘the loss and degradation of habitat’ due to coral bleaching, but rising water temperatures are also to blame.
Some habitats are becoming less suitable for certain species, such as the Thorny Skate, which has seen its population decline by more than 80 percent over the past three generations.
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