A lone female zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) has been joined by two of her kind at the Sea Life centre in Blackpool.
The two new additions have made the six hour trip in purpose built transport tanks from the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth to move into their new forever home, in Blackpool.
Originally conceived in an aquarium in Dubai then transported as eggs to the UK, the two sharks joined a breeding and research programme in Plymouth in 2013. The twins were of particular interest to UK marine specialists as they are the result of a rare breeding phenomenon – Parthenogenesis.
Parthenogenesis is the process by which a species can produce offspring without a male mate; in essence cloning their own DNA profile to create offspring. The fatherless twins offer invaluable insight for UK marine specialists, demonstrating how this breeding phenomenon can affect the offspring’s breeding behaviour.
Whilst in Plymouth, the twins shared their tank with a male zebra shark, however failed to parent any offspring. The team in Blackpool will now be watching keenly to see if they follow in their mother’s independent footprints and reproduce without a male tank mate.
The species, which is found in the Western Pacific and Indian oceans, is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. As a species in decline, it is important that we further our knowledge and understanding of these creatures to protect their future populations.
The twins will be joining long term resident Mystique in the 500,000 litre Ocean tank at Sea Life Blackpool. They will also share their new home with over 200 other creatures, including 12 other sharks. The tank is home to 4 shark species – nurse sharks, white tip sharks, black tip sharks, and zebra sharks – all of whom live peacefully together in this tropical oasis.
The duo are each just over 5ft long and weigh 25kg and 30kg, roughly the weight of a nine-year-old girl!
Whilst they may be called ‘zebra sharks’, these new arrivals are fashioning spots, not stripes. Zebra sharks are born with stripes and after 3 months begin to transition their colourings to become mature spotted zebra sharks.
Scott Blacker, Head Curator at Sea Life Blackpool, said: “We are delighted to welcome these magnificent and majestic creatures to Sea Life Blackpool. We know they will be made to feel at home straight away by Mystique – and her other friends in our Ocean Tank.
The new sharks join us from the National Marine Aquarium where they have lived since 2013.
Born to a single mother the twins offer invaluable insight into the rare breeding phenomenon of parthenogenesis, we will be watching keenly to see if they follow in their mothers footsteps to become single parents.”
Scott added: “Sharks are extremely intelligent creatures, having been around for more than 400 million years. They have some of the largest brains among all fish and some can even communicate using body language!
Zebra sharks are renowned for being particularly responsive to training. We continue the twins’ training to target feed so that we can monitor their individual calorie consumption. We will also be training them to swim into the stretcher to allow frequent weighing to monitor their size and growth.
It is essential that the UK marine community continue to learn as much about these endangered creatures as possible to better protect and conserve them in the wild.”
Sea Life aim to educate and inspire a love for the oceans, bringing guests closer than ever before to these impressive creatures. Soon guests will be able to dive in and snorkel alongside these magical creatures with the Sea Life Blackpool Snorkel Experience.
The three female sharks, are now forming a special bond in their forever home in Sea Life Blackpool.
To celebrate the release of the newest members of the Sea Life Blackpool family, they are launching a competition to create a beautiful Ocean tale about the newest editions. Sea Life Blackpool wants participants to write a short story (no more than 500 words) about the adventures of ZULU and Zion with their new friends in the Ocean tank. The winner will receive two tickets to a shark dive experience at Sea Life Blackpool. Entrants must be over ten and competent swimmers to take part.
Send your story before 6th September 2021 to be in with a chance to win this fin-tastic prize.