Ragged-tooth shark birth a first for uShaka Sea World

  • 13 March 2013 | Ann Kunz

The birth of a ragged-tooth shark ("raggie") at uShaka Sea World on Saturday 9 March 2013 was an especially welcome addition to the Aquarium, since these sharks are classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data List.

The fully formed female ragged-tooth shark pup swims around the Large Shark Exhibit at uShaka Sea World

The arrival of the raggie pup was first spotted by one of the uShaka Sea World Education Centre staff. While in conversation with guests in the Aquarium she noticed one of the female ragged-tooth sharks (Carcharias taurus) emitting a milky substance into the Large Shark Exhibit.

She immediately alerted Aquarium staff, who made their way as quickly as possible to the exhibit. In the two minutes it took them to get to the scene, a healthy female pup had been born and was swimming around strongly in her new environment.

News of the birth spread quickly among Aquarium guests and a crowd soon gathered with cameras at the ready.

Ragged-tooth sharks are placid, slow-moving sharks, but the arrival of a 50cm-long pup represented a possible meal for the other raggies, brindle bass and dusky sharks in the exhibit.

A rare picture of ragged-tooth sharks in the classic "tail down" mating position

Although pups are born fully developed and independent of parental care – with a full set of razor-sharp teeth – they become easy prey for larger predators. For this reason the newborn had to be removed from the Large Shark Exhibit as quickly as possible without alerting the other sharks more than necessary.

The Aquarists were prepared for the possibility that one of the pregnant females would give birth by keeping equipment easily accessible. As the public and staff anxiously watched, the pup spent a short while swimming on the bottom of the exhibit before making her way to the surface where staff were on standby ready to gently lift her out.

As the pup appeared to be in perfect health it was decided to transfer her directly into the Reef Predator Exhibit where she was closely monitored by divers for the next two hours. The other sharks and fish in the exhibit investigated the newcomer with interest but thankfully without any dinner plans.

New-born raggie pups are ultimate survivors, having outlived their brothers and sisters in the uterus. Intrauterine cannibalism is practised by raggie embryos from the time they are 10cm – they kill and devour their siblings.

Generally two pups are born, but our mum gave birth to a single pup only. Ragged-tooth sharks have the lowest reproductive rate of all shark species and only reach sexual maturity at seven years for males and 10 years for females.

Ragged-toothed sharks are found in oceans across the globe.

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