Vancouver Aquarium releases first rescued, rehabilitated shark back into ocean

Feb 16 2018, 6:17 am

A rescued and rehabilitated shark felt the love from the Vancouver Aquarium on Valentine’s Day.

The shark – a North Pacific spiny dogfish – was released into Burrard Inlet on Wednesday, following six months of rehabilitation at the Aquarium.

This is the first rescue, rehabilitation, and release of a shark for the Vancouver Aquarium in its 62-year history.

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The case began back on August 16, 2017, when a concerned beachgoer called Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre upon witnessing a “distressed fish” on the beach at Lumberman’s Arch.

The team notified their Stanley Park-based colleagues and Vancouver Aquarium’s Veterinary and Fishes teams responded to the stranded animal.

Upon their arrival at the scene, they found the female shark entangled in a fishing net, weakened and disoriented after sustaining significant skin wounds from the net, and from being washed up repeatedly on the sandy shore.

Team members noted that the shark’s “breathing was shallow” and she had a damaged spiracle and blood in one eye.

“The dogfish was in very poor shape when we found her,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at Vancouver Aquarium and director of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

“Our team, led by veterinary fellow Dr. Amy Gould, provided the 24-hour intensive care required to stabilize the dogfish when she was transferred to the Aquarium.”

This process included the team getting in the water with the shark, supporting her and ensuring she had water flowing over her gills.

“Her blood was closely monitored for lactic acid build-up and other parameters,” said Haulena.

In addition, “physical therapy was provided to help dissipate lactic acid, increase tissue oxygenation, and prevent muscle atrophy which could lead to permanent damage to the vertebral column. We were very worried that she would not make it through the night, but by morning she was showing signs of improvement.”

In the days following her rescue, the dogfish began swimming independently, and two weeks after, she began eating squid when hand-fed by an Aquarium biologist.

Over time, the team helped the dogfish transition to feeding from a target and then foraging for food. As her appetite and diet expanded, her wounds healed and she became much stronger.

“It’s been a long road to recovery for this spiny dogfish and she’s come so far,” said senior Aquarium biologist Justin Lisaingo. “When her skin lesions were no longer visible, her spiracle and eye healed, and her strength and energy regained, we knew she was ready to return to the wild.”

North Pacific spiny dogfish are found in waters from California to Alaska, along the Aleutian chain to the Asian coast and south to Japan. The shark is listed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The lifespan of the spiny dogfish is estimated to be up to 100 years.

Entanglement by marine debris is a serious issue facing aquatic life. Ghost fishing gear, including nets and ropes, as well as discarded trash such as the plastic strapping used in packaging and shipping, can become tangled in gills and or snared around the necks of animals and can result in inquiry, suffocation, starvation, and death.

For anyone who may come across a stranded aquatic animal, the Vancouver Aquarium advises you not to approach it and “keep pets away.”

People can also call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604-258-7325 for immediate assistance.

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Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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