Aquarium in deep water over hammerhead shark deaths
Europe's largest aquarium faces legal action over the 30 deaths, although it denies it mistreated them
The largest aquarium in Europe is facing legal action over the deaths of 30 hammerhead sharks, which a marine conservation group alleges suffered mistreatment.
Sea Shepherd France announced at the weekend that it would file a lawsuit on Monday against the Nausicaá aquarium in Boulogne, near Calais. The last of the 30 sharks, which were introduced to the aquarium in 2011 and 2018, died last Thursday. Sea Shepherd accuses Nausicaá of “serious mistreatment” of the sharks and “breaches of environmental law”.
Philippe Vallette, the manager of the aquarium, rejected the allegations and the claim that they died because they were kept in captivity. Instead, they died from “a fungus, latent in the organism of sharks, which spreads when they are in a weakened state”.
Hammerheads were prone to fungal infection even in the wild, Vallette said. “A female has 600 to 700 young during her life and the survival rate of a hammerhead shark is one for every two or three hundred,” he added.
However, experts say the sharks die earlier in captivity. Nicolas Ziani, an ichthyologist, said their life expectancy decreased from 30 to about 12 years.
Hammerheads are an endangered species, notably because of the practice of shark finning, in which their fins are removed, causing death because they are unable to swim properly and sink to the bottom. Fishing of the species is regulated by international treaty.
Twenty of the sharks were transported to the aquarium after being captured off Australia in 2011. In 2018, Nausicaá bought another 10 babies. Many of the sharks, weakened by the fungal infection, reportedly attacked and killed each other.
Their deaths are hugely embarrassing for the aquarium, which has been known for protecting fish and marine animals for three decades. “We were the victims of our own ambitions,” Vallette said.
The deaths also represent a major financial loss for Nausicaá, which opened a new basin for the hammerheads in 2018. The size of four Olympic swimming pools, it attempts to recreate the ecosystem of the open sea and cost more than £2m to build.
The scalloped hammerhead is one of the most difficult sharks to raise in captivity and Nausicaá has been accused by the Trente Millions d’Amis foundation, a French animal protection group, of “sacrificing animal lives for the sole purpose of entertaining the public”. However, Vallette said: “The purpose of keeping animals in captivity is so that researchers can observe their behaviour.”
The aquarium said: “The presence of the hammerheads at Nausicaá was intended to make our visitors acquainted with the beauty and fragility of this animal, to get to know it better and observe its behaviour in order to learn to protect it better in its natural environment.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)
Headless seals on beach shock France
The discovery of a series of decapitated seals on Brittany’s beaches has shocked France and prompted a police manhunt for their killers.Gautier Paris, the detective leading the investigation, said a seal head was found hanging from a sea wall “almost like a trophy”. Two other headless corpses were later discovered.Police suspect that “a person or persons working on a boat, perhaps a fishing vessel”, may be responsible.Seals were found dead in similar circumstances in the Calais area in 2018. Some had been decapitated, others shot. Killing them is an offence in France carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)