Blind date for lovelorn shark

GREAT Yarmouth Sea Life Centre is hoping to set up a blind date for a lovelorn shark.

If they succeed the liaison could lead to Britain’s first ever captive breeding of zebra sharks.

Resident eight foot long female Zebra shark Athena is extremely broody and has already produced hundreds of eggs.

“She is at the peak of health and clearly in the mood for love,” said senior aquarist and shark expert Darren Gook.

“With no male in the ocean tank however, her eggs have all been infertile.”

So the call has gone out to Sea Life centres across Europe for a suitable stud to be shipped into Great Yarmouth to help Athena become a proud mum.

The centre is planning a special focus on sharks throughout 2012 and the birth of baby zebra sharks would be a fitting highlight.

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“Assuming we find her a suitable partner we’re confident they will waste no time getting it together,” said Mr Gook. “Afterwards we’ll be collecting any eggs that Athena lays and transferring them to special incubation tanks.”

The eggs could hatch in four to five months, the hatchlings measuring anything between eight and 14 inches long.

“Our visitors would finally get to see why they are called zebra sharks, in spite of the adult zebra shark’s very distinctive spotted pattern,” said Mr Gook.

“They are born with stripes, which gradually break up and transform into spots as they mature,” he explained.

“For a long time scientists thought they were different species because the young look so different.”

Zebra sharks are found in the Indo Pacific, from South Africa to Australia.

They are taken by commercial fisheries for their meat, fins and liver oil right across their range, and this coupled with the erosion of the coral reefs on which they live has led to them being classified as ‘vulnerable.’

The situation for many of the world’s shark species is even more serious than that, which is why Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre will be shining a spotlight on the plight of sharks throughout the year.

Among a series of related activities will be:

• A chance to be a shark trainer for a day

• Sleepovers with the sharks

• Shark Week in October

• Dedicated shark nursery

“We have a huge range of other creatures to meet and marvel at as well,” said Mr Gook. “But the focus will be very firmly on sharks this year and we hope to convert as many people as possible into fervent shark fans.”