Giant shark caught: Giant Basking Shark
Published: June 23, 2015
Giant shark caught: Giant Basking Shark, A rare basking shark accidentally caught in the nets of a fishing trawler off Portland has had his body donated to science.
Weighing almost three tonnes, the 6.5 metre-long male basking shark was the surprise find for fishermen on Sunday, who found the deceased animal in their nets.
Senior collections manager of vertebrate zoology at Museum Victoria Dianne Bray praised the captain’s initiative in alerting the museum.
Scientists examine the male basking shark. Photo: Museum Victoria
The second biggest fish after whale sharks, basking sharks are rarely found in Australian waters because they live well-off the continental shelf.
On hearing the news, Museum Victoria scientists headed to Portland take samples and measurements from the creature which is under-represented in the museum’s collection.
Martin Gomon, senior curator of ichthyology at the museum, said until now the species was only represented by teeth and gill filaments collected in 1883 by the museum’s former director Frederick McCoy.
Contemporary reports highlighted the enthusiasm the public showed at the ocean giant’s Melbourne arrival after travelling by rail from Portland, with people flocking to see it as it travelled on an extended cart up Swanston Street. It later went on display at a stable yard.
However it wasn’t on show for long. Melbourne’s summer weather took hold and the carcass, which had been sampled, sketched and measured, soon “defied approach”.
Move forward 130 years and the information that can be gleaned from samples has advanced beyond recognition, thanks to technology.
The CSIRO and Museum Victoria’s biobank will benefit from tissue and skin samples taken from the basking shark on Monday. These will be available for DNA and isotope analysis which could reveal where the shark lived and what it ate.
After using a crane to unload the 2.6 tonne shark from the trawler, scientists also took measurements and larger samples from the animal on the wharf.
Dr Gomon said eight vertebrae, the fins and tail fin as well as the head with its jaw and teeth intact were removed and transported to Melbourne. The head and fins will be used to make a mould, which will go on public display.
“This is a great acquisition for the museum,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be able to get some information about a shark we don’t come across that often.”
Dr Gomon anticipated the genetic data obtained from the samples would be the most valuable material.
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