Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dead Shark washed up at Catalan Bay

Early strollers in Catalan Bay got an unpleasant surprise this weekend as they came across the rotten remains of a seven-metre Basking shark that had washed up next to ‘La Mamela’.

The carcass of the shark was in an advanced state of decay and witnesses at the scene said the stench was overpowering. Officials were faced with a potential health hazard which had to be removed - and swiftly.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Royal Gibraltar Police had contacted Eric Shaw, head of the marine section of the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS) and concluded that there were three options open.

Firstly, the shark could have been towed out to sea and released in deep water, an option that was ruled out because of weather conditions and the condition of the carcass.

Alternatively, it could have been buried on site, an option that was also ruled out given that the beach is in constant and heavy use by the public.

Finally, officials opted to remove the shark from the beach using a mechanical digger.

By 8am on Saturday, an environmental health officer had alerted the Gibraltar Tourist Board (GTB) to the shark’s presence and the removal operation was put into motion.

Within two and a half hours, the dead shark was loaded onto a mechanical digger owned by Monteverde & Sons and taken away for disposal.

“Without the assistance of the Master Service beach crew and Monteverde & Sons, who brought a large digger, it would have been impossible to remove the shark,” the GTB said.

Because it was so badly decomposed, identifying the dead shark proved something of a tricky task.

Using a series of clues – or “points” – including size, the absence of teeth in an otherwise intact mouth, the shape of the tail, the remains of the gills and the position of the eyes within the structure of the head, Mr Shaw surmised that it was a Basking shark.

This type of shark, rarely seen in waters off Gibraltar, feeds on plankton and is completely harmless.

Given its condition, the shark must have been dead for a number of days before it washed up on Gibraltar, though there was no indication as to the cause of death.

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