uShaka witnesses rare sight of ragged-tooth shark giving birth

2013-03-13 00:00

A SPECIES of shark with one of the lowest reproduction rates gave birth to a female pup at uShaka Marine World in Durban on Saturday.

This is a first for uShaka since it opened almost eight years ago.

A ragged-tooth shark gave birth to a pup named Storm on Saturday while an uShaka education centre staff member was escorting guests through the aquarium.

Ann Kunz, a spokesperson for the South African Association for Marine Biological Research (SAAMBR), said the ragged-tooth shark does not breed easily, and it has the lowest reproduction rate of all sharks.

She added that the developing embryos practice cannibalism in the uterus and were often killed and eaten by the surviving pup. The newborn pup is left to fend for itself, gaining total independence as it emerges victorious after eating its siblings.

The mating procedure is aggressive and the female ends up with bite marks all over the body.

Males often reach sexual maturity after seven years, while females reach it between the ages of 10 and 12. Kunz described them as gentle, slow-moving creatures.

“The pups are born with razor-sharp teeth,” said Kunz.

“We moved this one to the reef predator exhibit with some fish similar to her size because the other sharks would have eaten her.”

Storm will need to be at least 1,5 metres long before she joins the other sharks again.

According to SAAMBR, the gestation period for ragged-tooth sharks is between nine and 12 months.

“A few months ago we felt confident that the mom was pregnant and hopeful that she would carry to term,” Kunz said.

“Raggies generally only pup in May or June, which is probably why Storm is a little smaller than average birth length.”

She said officials had witnessed mating behaviour in the exhibit before and had suspected the mother to be pregnant previously.

On Saturday, staff noticed a white cloudy substance in the water and realised that the mother was giving birth. The process took less than five minutes.

National Geographic tried to film the birth of a ragged-tooth shark at uShaka after it was suspected that a female could be pregnant. After waiting for almost a year for the marvel to unfold, the project was called off.

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