Mathew Orlov started his day as an angler only to end it as a surgeon. Sort of. The clever fisherman delivered 98 sevengill shark pups via "C-section" after their mother was killed by another predator.
“Caught a 2.71-meter [9-foot] 7 gill shark today, it was attacked by another shark on the way up," said Orlov in a Facebook post. "It happened to be a pregnant female, we ended up removing and releasing 98 pups, yes that’s right 98, I couldn’t believe it myself."
Fishing off of Australia’s Victorian coast, Orlov says the shark was not targeted – it was caught on a small hook intended for fish – and was already dead when he pulled it aboard. Surprisingly, its belly was still moving after he laid it on the boat's deck. Orlov said "instinct" told him what to do.
"I have caught shark for food before, so knew the anatomy quite well," he told IFLScience. To the tune of Usher’s Yeah!, Orlov did what any honorable angler might. He began slicing through the shark’s abdomen to remove individual pups from the mother’s womb, counting each as it came out and then sending it off into the ocean. The total "procedure" took nine minutes.
“This seven gill was attacked by a bigger shark on the way up, hence why it’s dead. But at least we’ve got puppies to survive,” Orlov says in the video below.
Named for their seven gills, these primitive sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) are ovoviviparous, meaning they produce eggs inside their body and give birth to live young. The eggs hatch inside the mother, which the little sharks feed off of. Typically, sevengill sharks will birth between 80 and 100 pups after a 12-month pregnancy, followed by a year-long recovery. With a lifespan of up to 50 years, sevengills have the potential to birth thousands of pups. The pups’ survival typically depends on their mother making it to full term. In this case, the shark pups don’t appear to be attached to a yolk, which biologists say could mean they have a chance.
“That’s not uncommon – cutting babies out of a dead or dying mama shark, usually when they are caught as bycatch,” Hawaii-based marine fisheries biologist Lauren Sauer told IFLScience. “Typically, fish try to pump out as many babies as possible in order for some to survive. Sharks don’t really raise their young. They are born knowing what to do.”
The deceased mother of 98 might not have seen her young pups off, but Orlov says she did feed his family.