It was an honour to be invited by the Two Oceans Aquarium to document the release of two ragged-tooth sharks back into the wild on 11 April 2013.
The process started a few days earlier, when the Aquarium team had to move Kay, a 207kg female raggie, out of her exhibit and up to the roof of the Aquarium, so that the vet could fit her with an internal acoustic tag.
As Kay makes her journey along the coast, and north towards the warmer waters of the Benguela current, the signal from her tag will be picked up by a series of listening stations. Scientists can then use this information to better understand the migratory patterns of ragged-tooth sharks, and assist in the conservation efforts of these majestic creatures.
As you can see in the accompanying video, Kay wasn’t too keen on leaving the Aquarium! She seemed uneasy at the blue ‘cone’ that is used to safely hoist sharks out of the exhibit and into a transportation tank. Once the team switched over to a transparent cone, they were able to move her up to a holding tank on the roof of the Aquarium, where she was anaesthetised by the vet, and tagged.
On the day of her release, she was joined by another young male raggie that had come down from the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria. The two were carefully placed on the back of a large truck and taken to Gordon’s Bay harbour. One after the other, they were then lowered into the boat Aquarium 1 for their respective trips out to sea.
With the smaller male safely released first, it was Kay’s turn — and seeing a huge shark being carried through the air by a crane was an unusual sight, for sure! But once safely in the boat, the Aquarium team headed two nautical miles out to sea, said their goodbyes, and lowered her into the cool waters of False Bay. Having been lightly sedated for some of the journey, it took Kay a few seconds to find her fins, but very soon she swam off to explore her new home — the open ocean.
“It took Kay a few seconds to find her fins, but very soon she swam off to explore her new home — the open ocean.”
It was a beautiful moment, and an amazing event to have witnessed. The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the only facilities in the world that can and does regularly release sharks back into the wild. They collect the animals for their exhibits themselves, and see these sharks as ambassadors for their species — helping us to learn more about them, and hopefully getting the public interested in marine conservation.
Kay had been at the Aquarium for four years. She was well fed and looked after, and is now a viable mating partner. Previous shark releases have shown that these raggies adapt to life back in the wild perfectly. As one of the most misunderstood and maligned animals, the work that the Two Oceans Aquarium is doing is invaluable to shark conservation efforts in South Africa.
Long may their fin-tastic work continue!