Val, a large female ragged-tooth shark, so named for the amount of Valium used to sedate her when she was collected for display, has been voted by the public as the next shark to be released by the Two Oceans Aquarium. This release follows the release of Maxine on 18 March 2004 and is part of the Save Our Seas Foundation Maxine, Science, Education and Awareness (M-Sea) Programme, an AfriOceans Conservation Alliance initiative.
Val was caught in Arniston in 1998 specifically for display in the I&J Predator Exhibit. Michael Farquhar, Curator of the Two Oceans Aquarium and a member of the team responsible for her collection, says, “Val‘s certainly a feisty shark – she put up quite a struggle when we collected her from a holding pool in Arniston. She thrashed around to such a degree that she managed to ‘slap’ one of our aquarists with her tail. We had to dart her with Valium several times to calm her down ”. Identifiable by a tear in the upper lobe on her tail, as well as a tiny ‘beauty spot’ on her left cheek, Val has grown from about 97 kg to an estimated 215 kilograms. “She is the biggest of our 3 female sharks and it is time for her to return to the ocean,’’ says Farquhar. “Together with Maxine, the icon of the M-Sea Programme, Val has been a great ambassador for sharks and I am thrilled to be part of the team responsible for taking her home. Hopefully she’ll be more co-operative this time round!’’ he continues.
On Monday 4 April 2005 Val will be transported by road to Struisbaai. Like Maxine, Val will be tagged by Dr Malcolm Smale of Bayworld in Port Elizabeth. He will attach a pop-up archival transmission tag, a spaghetti tag and an ultrasonic tag. The pop-up archival tag, programmed to surface 4 months after Val’s release, will hopefully gather information on her location; the depth to which she swims; water temperature and daylight patterns.
At the time of Val’s release, the Aquarium aims to tag a wild ragged-tooth shark of a similar size. “After we have released Val, we will remain in Struisbaai to catch and tag a wild raggie. This is a unique opportunity to compare the behaviour of released Aquarium sharks with that of wild sharks,” says Farquhar. “We know so little about these animals. We hope, that with each shark release, we will be able to contribute to our knowledge of ragged-tooth sharks in the wild and to changing perceptions of sharks in general.”
The public is encouraged to follow Val’s journey as she travels along the southern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal coast on the migration route. The AfriOceans Conservation Alliance (AOCA) will once again run a Tag Competition in which people have the opportunity to guess where Val’s tag will surface and win fantastic prizes. These include a two-night getaway at the luxurious four-star guesthouse, Parkes Manor, in Knysna; a Featherbed Experience for two, including a buffet meal; vouchers for Monkeyland; two complimentary Bridge Walks on the world-renowned Bloukrans Bridge, courtesy of Face Adrenalin Sports; entrance for two to the Knysna Elephant Park; a Reef wetsuit; an Immersion H20 dive watch; a Brightweights weightbelt; Rozier Reef Merlot and Rozier Reef Pinotage wine sponsored by Atlantic Wine Agencies and an annual subscription to the award-winning wildlife magazine ‘’Africa Geographic’’. Entries can be made either by logging onto www.aoca.org.za or at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is grateful to the Save our Seas Foundation and the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance for the opportunity to expand on its public awareness and conservation programmes. ‘’The beauty of the S.O.S. M-Sea Programme is that it allows us to extend our conservation reach far beyond the Two Oceans Aquarium, which is imperative if we are to contribute effectively to the well-being of all sharks in the oceans,” says Farquhar.
It is estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed worldwide every year. Together with the overexploitation of these animals, negative media and public perception contribute to their precarious status. If sharks are to survive globally, they require support from organisations and individuals who are in a position to change people’s perceptions about these maligned creatures.
According to Lesley Rochat, Executive Director of A.O.C.A, “The primary objective of the S.O.S. M-Sea Programme has been to drive a high profile education and awareness campaign to highlight the serious threat to shark populations worldwide in order to assist in their conservation. Its success to date has shown that negative attitudes and public misperceptions, based largely on inherent fear and misunderstanding of sharks, can change through an initiative such as this. Maxine’s successful release, and now Val’s release, allows us to achieve this goal as these amazing animals, each with their own unique stories, swim straight into the hearts and minds of the public. Val will soon join Maxine in the hall of shark fame!”