On the 4th of February 2014, at around 11:30 am I was at work at the Macduff Marine Aquarium, as I cleaned the ‘nursery’ tank (a display set up to house shark and skate egg cases as well as other young fish species), which includes the careful removal of algae from the shark egg cases. I noticed the one I was currently cleaning had a well developed pup inside, as I looked closer I saw the top edge of the egg case had split so i rested the case on my hand and watched.
Soon enough after a decent amount of wriggling the pup hatched out right there onto my hand!
This particular pup was a small spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula), known locally and rather confusingly as a lesser spotted dogfish. Small spotted catsharks are most commonly encountered around the coastlines of Northern Europe, where they inhabit the seabed with a variety of strata (sand, mud gravel & rocky areas) from the shallow sublittoral down to depths of c. 400 m. They can reach a maximum length of 100 cm, with all males maturing after reaching a size of around 62 cm or in excess of 6.6 yrs and females at 69 cm / >7.9 yrs. Catsharks are opportunistic predators, consuming a wide range of macrobenthic fauna, with hermit crabs, cockles and whelks being considered dominant prey. In certain areas of the North East Atlantic, S. canicula are the most abundant elasmobranch, they are regularly taken in near-shore fisheries and are sometimes landed for human consumption.
At Macduff aquarium, we have a large ‘kelp’ tank as a main display, in here mating pairs of S. canicula lay fertile eggs around the kelp. When diving in this tank we periodically remove the eggs and place them in the nursery tank, releasing them back into the wild once they have reached around 18 months +.
With the recent publication by Nicholas Dulvy et al. entitled “Extinction risk and conservation of the world’s sharks and rays” detailing the fact that one quarter of all sharks, rays and chimaeras are threatened with extinction as well as the controversial ‘cull’ policy currently being employed in Western Australia. It was perfectly apt that Shark Angels (a global community that believes in the power of education, media and local grassroots campaigns to raise awareness and help save sharks and their ecosystems) should suggest this pup be named ‘Hope’.
In today’s world in an Oceanic version of Pandora’s Box, after all the evil’s have been unleashed – overfishing, ocean acidification, sea temperature rise, marine litter, shark finning… I take encouragement in ‘Hope’ and further more with marine organizations and individuals stepping outside the box (apologies for the pun) in support of conservation, education and awareness I believe in ‘Hope’ too.