Monterey aquarium hopes to capture, display great white shark

The Associated Press
Monday June 10, 2002

MONTEREY – Scientists with the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium hope to reel in a baby great white shark and become the first institution to successfully exhibit the ocean’s most-feared predator. 

The aquarium launched the three-year, $1.1 million effort last month, with four boats trolling the waters off California’s coast from Santa Barbara to San Diego. 

Biologists say great whites never have survived more than three weeks in captivity, largely because they won’t eat. Researchers hope to reserve the trend by making capture less stressful, by focusing on sharks younger than 1 year and by giving the shark a suitable home — a million-gallon, 90-foot-long, 35-foot-deep tank. 

“If it was easy, our researchers could have done it years ago,” John O’Sullivan, the aquarium’s curator of field operations, told the Los Angeles Times. 

Scientists plan to return next year during the animals’ birthing season to try again after an unsuccessful outing. Unusually cold and murky water kept sharks away from 8,000 mackerel-baited hooks, he said. 

Having a great white in captivity would help scientists pad meager knowledge of the shark’s habits and give aquarium-goers an up-close look at an animal that can reach 21 feet in length, weigh 7,000 pounds and have up to 3,000 teeth, each 3 inches long. 

“It would be a wonderful spokesman for the aquarium,” O’Sullivan said, adding the aquarium would tag and release the shark if it showed any signs of distress. 

Exhibiting a great white also could help the sharks overcome their reputation as vicious beasts with a taste for swimmers. Scientists now believe the sharks attack people when they mistake them for sea lions. 

There have been 82 great white shark attacks in California waters since 1950, eight of them fatal, McCosker said. 

“If Monterey succeeds, they won’t exactly humanize these creatures, but they will make people understand that they are not the rogue killers we knew from ‘Jaws,”’ said John McCosker, former director of San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium and currently chairman of aquatic biology at the California Academy of Sciences.