Saturday, December 1, 2012

Moving a Shark

Good day, fellow humans and extraterrestrial eavesdroppers. A short post about a unique opportunity I had this week, namely, transporting a brown-banded bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) about 150 miles by truck and good luck.

Juveniles BBBs have striking brown and cream markings.

The roughly 3 foot long female had been in a small holding tank for over a year. She'd been removed from a very large tank containing about a bajillion reef fishes, the number of which she'd been steadily reducing during her night-time huntabouts. She needed a new home and we found one for her at a small, for-profit, public aquarium opening soon in a neighboring city. Thus, the decision was made to transport her there post haste. First, she had to be removed from her holding tank, transported down some pretty sketchy stairs and out into a waiting holding tank on the back of a flatbed pick-up. I wondered if we'd be anesthetizing her to some degree to make her easier to handle but that was not the case. As it turned out, with the right tools and experience she was pretty easy to move. One of the key tools was this handy-dandy fish hammock.

This cool fish hammock made getting the animal out of the holding tank and carrying her down very steep stairs a breeze.
The vinyl hammock has a very smooth interior, perfect for not damaging the delicate skin of fishes. It's about 3 feet long and 2 feet deep. It holds water but has holes punched in the side about half way down so as to allow some water to drain out, thereby lightening the load. The carrying poles are made of PVC with safety caps on the ends. They are light-weight and strong, perfect for carrying a fish out of water or, in a pinch, an unsuspecting missionary back to the ol' cooking fire. We used a large fish net to direct the shark into this hammock by lifting and guiding her head. It's funny how much larger fish can look in the water. I swore this was a 5 foot, 80 pound animal from the few times I'd viewed her from above in her holding tank. As it turns out, 3 feet and about 25 pounds was more like it.

The holding tank on the back of the truck was made of insulated plastic, like a giant beer cooler or, in this case, fish warmer. The tank had been filled with 76 F filtered sea-water. This was the same water that had been flowing into her holding tank so no worries about acclimation. We filled 4 1-gallon jugs with boiling water and floated them in the tank with the shark to help keep the water temperature from dropping over our roughly 2 hour drive. We also placed 4 partially inflated large plastic garbage bags in the container which, when pressed down by the lid, would help keep the water (and the shark) from sloshing around. This all worked awesome except we didn't secure the lid properly before we took off. Doh! We had a temp/PH probe in the water which was connected to a monitor in the cab by a long wire. Early on, we wanted to check the status but when we looked at the monitor is said "Calibration Necessary." Hmmmm, curious. Eventually, one of our team members looked back and saw the lid had blown off our container, at the same time, shearing off the probe, hence no read-out. We were calm but mildly horrified, imagining that we'd fully lost the lid, having it land on the road behind us...or worse. Thankfully, when we pulled over and got out, the lid was there along with the probe. Regrettably, the plastic bags were who-knows-where. Unfortunate from a pollution perspective but not such a terrible outcome considering. We got everything back in order, sans the probe, and continued on our journey. The lesson: double, nay, triple-check the security of any load.

The journey was subsequently uneventful and we arrived at our destination right on time with water still at exactly 76 F and a healthy animal ready for new, more spacious digs. We were greeted by the owner of the aquarium as well as the Director of Husbandry. After a short tour of their cool new facility, we came out to see the shark. They were a little surprised at her size, having expected a somewhat smaller animal, but they were very impressed with her immaculate condition. They took a water sample and PH/salinity/temperature parameters matched their holding tank so out of the truck and into the tank she went. Her eventual home will be a large, sandy-bottomed exhibit with other sharks and rays, perfect for a small, benthic shark like our bamboo.

Our adult female bamboo shark looked a lot like this one. The banding pattern is much subdued or fully lost in the adult animal. This photo from "Shipwrecks and Sharks."

We said our see-ya's and off we went. One fill-up, one rest stop and 3 sandwiches later, we were back, feeling good about giving this animal a new and better home.

Cheers, Paul