The world’s only captive great white shark has died just three days after being placed in a Japanese aquarium.
The great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) was brought to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium on Tuesday after it was accidently caught in a net off the southwest coast of Japan. Measuring a moderate 3.5 meters (11.5 feet), the male shark had refused to eat since it was captured.
The shark’s death will undergo an investigation, although this story appears to be in tune with the long history of unsuccessful attempts to hold great whites in captivity. For example, in 1981, SeaWorld in San Francisco held a great white, which it released just 16 days later after it refused to eat.
“The cause of death is clear: captivity. The shark never had to die like this,” said Jason Baker, PETA’s vice-president of international campaigns to Associated Press.
There are many theories on why an aquarium tank can’t contain these wild spirits of the sea. First of all, their natural temperament is to cruise the open ocean for hundreds of kilometers at a time, requiring a sizeable tank that most aquariums are not equipped for. If denied this, they can become depressed and even more aggressive. They also need to continually swim in order to have a constant, fresh water flow over their gills.
Also, unless starving, these sharks will always eat live prey and refuse to scavenge already dead food.
Another theory suggests that the extremely harsh and artificial environment of a glass tank could overwhelm or confuse these sharks' incredibly sharp electrosensitivity. In a previous attempt to keep a female great white in captivity, a small difference in electric potential across the tank was blamed for the animal's repeated collisions with a particular section of the aquarium, so she was quickly released.
Despite the known dangers of holding great whites captive, George H. Burgess – an ichthyologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History – says many aquariums are drawn to attempting to display great white sharks to bring the profit-driving Jaws-factor to their exhibits.
“It’s purely climb-the-mountain stuff,” Burgess told The New York Times. “In the world of aquaria, where you bring in your clientele, the visitors, based on your attractions, it’s an attraction you would have that nobody else would have.”