Back to the wild

Posted: 11/20/2011 in all marine news

Emily Sohn –

The death of a great white shark that was released after captivity highlights the unknowns about ocean animal needs.

After 55 days on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a great white shark was set free into the Pacific a few weeks ago, equipped with both high hopes for its survival and a tracking device to see where it would end up.

Within hours, the 52-pound fish died. The aquarium decided to let the shark go after watching him repeatedly rub his nose against the glass of his 1.5-million gallon tank.

Eventually, they knew he’d end up with an infection and they wanted to let him out while there was still time.

The death, which is still under investigation by aquarium veterinarians, was unexpected but not unprecedented.

Every year, thousands of marine animals are picked up for research, rehabilitation or exhibition.

Some stay in aquariums or zoos for the rest of their lives, but many are carefully returned to the wild. And while these releases are often successful — and getting more so — the ocean is far more vast and unpredictable than the safe haven of an aquarium tank.

There are no guarantees.

“The ocean is definitely a big place and things go wrong,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium veterinarian Mike Murray, who is still fixated on analyzing the mystery of the great white’s demise.

“I have been thinking about it and browbeating myself and going through everything we have done, wanting to have an answer to what occurred.

And I can’t come up with a real answer.” Despite longstanding arguments about the ethics of zoos and aquariums, captivity is most often the safest and most luxurious option for animals.

They get plenty to eat. They have access to excellent medical care. And they can swim free of threats from predators.

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