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Taiwan Aquarium Lambasted over Botched Shark Release

Jul 29, 2013 03:24 PM EDT
Whale shark in the Georgia Aquarium
After a nine-year study, researchers have a better understanding of whale shark migration patterns and are a few steps closer to reaching what one scientist calls the "holy grail" of whale shark biology.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Marine animal conservationists leveled criticism against a Taiwanese aquarium's release of a captive whale shark, suggesting that improper handling during the release may have injured the shark and put it at risk of dying in the wild.

Last week the animal rights group Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) lambasted the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in southern Taiwan for it's handling of a 6.5 meter long whale shark.

The botched release resulted in the shark twice becoming stranded on the beach before being towed out to sea.

The Focus Taiwan news outlet reported that while the shark was released July 10 it "suffered numerous wounds during the release process" and was observed having a difficult time once it was finally in water deep enough where it could swim.

"The aquarium was not freeing the shark, it was killing the shark," said EAST Chief Executive Officer Tseng-hung Chu.

Chu said the the shark was effectively abandoned in the ocean after being released from eight years of captivity, the China Post reported.

"The aquarium did not have any back-up plans when the whale shark was stranded on the shore," Chu said, adding that the aquarium staff "attempted to move the whale shark, which weighed 3,600 kilograms, with their hands."

"Staff ignored the injuries the whale shark suffered from the failed attempt to release, and dragged the shark to the sea when the shark had stopped struggling, with its stomach facing toward the sky," said Chu.

Wei-hsien Wang, the head of the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, said that aquarium staff treated the whale shark as carefully as they could and the he does now know what will become of the shark.

"We tried our best to protect the shark," he said, according to Focus Taiwan. "It just didn't occur to us that it would refuse to swim away but rather would linger near the shore."

Wang said that he would feel sorry if it turns out the shark died.

"Since the aquarium did not put a GPS tracker on the shark," Chu said, "no one knows if the shark returned back to the sea safely and survived."

Click here for a photo of the beached shark

A dearth of information about whale shark migratory patterns adds to the uncertain fate of the released shark, and the aquarium's lack of fitting the shark with a GPS tracker ensures no one will know what becomes of it.

A recent study began by Australian researchers is using special GPS devices and Google Maps to track whale sharks and learn more about their lifestyle.

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