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Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday Bonus—Great White Shark Cam

Monterey Bay Open Sea Exhibit
In conjunction with the Project White Shark research program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a juvenile great white shark is on exhibit in the million-gallon Open Sea tank.  He is less than a year old, weighs 43.2 pounds, and I've named him, Malibu, because that's where he was caught.

Click here for a link to the live Open Sea web cam.  Click the full screen icon at the lower right corner of the window, and then wait...dah-dum...dah-dum...dum-dum dum-dum dum-dum dum-dum...EEK!!    

It may take a while, depending on where Malibu is swimming, but if you're lucky, you may get to see his friend, the hammerhead shark.  A look at the giant sunfish is worth the wait, too.  I've seen that dude several times, and he looks like a big sideways pancake with wings.  The dreamy background music and the school of bluefin tuna gliding around the tank is soothing...okay, hypnotic until a big triangular fin slides into view (like it just did!).  Nice sharkie...

This is the sixth great white to go on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the only aquarium in the world to put a great white on display for more than 16 days.  The length of the shark's stay depends on how well it does in captivity.  They are returned to the wild when they start to show signs of distress, become aggressive toward the other fish, or outgrow the tank.  The fifth great white shark on exhibit was released in a healthy condition in 2009, but later died in a gill net.  It is the only one of the great white visitors, so far, to have perished after its release.

Great whites can grow up to 21 feet long and weigh more than 5,000 pounds.  They eat mainly seals and sea lions, but they've been known to chomp on penguins and other birds, as well as fish, and the occasional surf board—a case of mistaken identity because surf boards resemble seal profiles from the pov of a shark.  (Crrrraaaap!  The hammerhead just swam right past the cam, and he looks slightly annoyed...)

Recent research from Stanford University (to be published later this year on the migration patterns of great whites) indicates that great white sharks are now one of the most endangered animals on Earth.  There are fewer than 3,500 great whites left worldwide making them nearly as rare as tigers in the wild (estimated at around 3,200 by the World Wide Fund for Nature, formerly the World Wildlife Fund).

Humans are much more of a threat to great whites than great whites are to humans.  Worldwide, the number of shark attacks (all species) is around 60 per year, with the majority of attacks taking place in the U.S. (Florida, Hawaii, California, Texas, and the Carolinas).  Of those in the U.S., there have been only 4 confirmed fatalities by great whites since the year 2000.  Your odds of being killed by a shark in 2000 were 0 in 264.1 million.  Your odds of drowning or being killed by something on the beach, 1 in 2 million.

On the other hand, Dr. John McCosker, the chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences, estimates that 70 million sharks (of all species) are killed every year by fishermen engaged in finning, the practice of cutting off the sharks' fins and dumping the still living animals back into the ocean.  Not so good for the sharks.  The practice is banned on U.S. vessels, but the importation of shark fins is still allowed in most states.  (Ooo-ooo!  A sardine ball just swam in front of the lens!)

On July 1, 2010, Hawaii took a huge step toward stopping the shark fin trade by banning the distribution, sale, and possession of shark fins.  Washington and Oregon followed suit in May and June of this year with identical legislation.  Currently in California, Assembly Bill (AB 376) sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), has passed the Assembly and is awaiting a vote in the state Senate, possibly as early as next Friday.  Yay, that's progress toward a more civilized world!

There is, however, opposition from state senators, Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) and Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who feel that the bill is "an unfair attack on Asian culture and cuisine."  If I may speak for the sharks, finning is an unfair attack on the sharks, not to mention the oceans' ecosystems.  Healthy oceans v. a bowl of soup...hmmm, tough choice, but I think I'll go with preserving the global shark populations and maintaining what is left of our healthy oceans.  (Sparkly, little rainbow fish swimming by...)

Check it out!  It's not every day that you go eyeball-to-eyeball with a great white shark.  Get there early, expect crowds, and wear comfortable shoes.  And, don't do the flashy thing at the fish.  They don't have any eyelids, and seriously, it's hard enough being a fish in an aquarium, what with little kids banging on the glass all day.  And, would it kill the docents to get the sunfish a mocha frappe every now and then?...