Science museum

Endangered hammerhead sharks die at Miami Frost Science Museum

When you think of a deadly season of sharks, you probably imagine blood in the water, severed limbs and the ominous two-note snorkel of Jaws. But a three-month stint at the Frost Science Museum last year saw three shark deaths, the first recorded shark mortalities at the museum since it opened in 2016.

Records obtained by new times from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) show that between September and December 2021, two juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks and one adult silky shark owned by Frost Science died in captivity from various causes. Both species are globally endangered or threatened by overfishing and the shark fin trade, which kills millions of sharks a year. The death of the young hammerhead sharks highlights a disease affecting sharks that experts know little about.

On Aug. 4, Frost Science received a shipment of three juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks, a critically endangered species, from an approved partner, according to Andy Dehart, vice president of animal husbandry and marine conservation at FrostScience. Dehart, a childhood shark enthusiast, says the museum acquired the endangered sharks to educate children and adults about the species to help with conservation efforts.

“We want to raise awareness of what is happening with the shark fin trade. These hammerhead sharks are great ambassadors for their species. We want people to learn more about them and fall in love with sharks,” said said Dehart. new times.

But something was wrong when the young hammerhead sharks arrived.

One of the sharks showed immediate signs of fusarium, a fungus that lives in underwater environments and commonly infects sharks, and hammerhead sharks in particular. The fungus can cause chronic dermatitis and blood vessel inflammation and has an 88% mortality rate in sharks at Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey, according to a 2017 research paper by veterinary scientist Michael Hyatt. Little is known about the infection or how to properly treat it.

A scalloped hammerhead shark

Photo by Kris-Mikael Krister via Flickr

“We had them quarantined and in a holding facility as part of our protocols with new animals, and when they arrived, one of them showed early signs of fusarium. Fungal infections are l ‘one of the most difficult disease pathways to solve,’ says Dehart.

Frost Science began contacting other aquariums across the United States and as far away as Japan for advice on how to treat the infection.

But their efforts were in vain: the first hammerhead shark died on September 5. The infection also spread to two other quarantined hammerhead sharks, one of which died on December 14.

The silky shark, an endangered species, had been with Frost Science since the museum opened in 2016. It died within the same three-month period, although it was not in the same tank and the museum staff have not determined what killed him.

“He had difficulty navigating and was not swimming well. We tried antibiotics and steroids and worked with this animal for three hours straight to resuscitate him before calling for euthanasia of the animal,” Dehart said.

Autopsy data from the silky shark has been sent to pathologists and labs. Dehart says Frost Science is still waiting for a response.

The third hammerhead shark acquired by Frost Science remains in medical quarantine and shows signs of fusarium infection. Museum biologists treat him with antifungal drugs and steroid injections.

Dehart says he doesn’t know if fusarium is becoming more common in sharks in the wild, but says animals acquired in recent years come with a host of problems from ocean pollution and climate change. climate, including parasites and a range of infections. Fusarium is also known to be common in bonnethead sharks, a type of hammerhead shark that lives in Biscayne Bay, Dehart adds.

“We are saddened by this loss,” he said. “We’ve worked very hard. We believe that when you can bring children, adults, seniors face to face with animals, it can be magical.”