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Plan To Import Sharks


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GREY nurse sharks could be imported to Queensland and NSW or artificially inseminated under a proposal to boost flagging populations.

Researchers from Sydney's Macquarie University are considering moving sharks from Western Australia or Africa to the eastern seaboard in a bid to strengthen the sharks' gene pool.

Research team member Adam Stow said studies had shown there was limited migration within Australian grey nurse shark populations and the critically endangered east coast variety had very low levels of genetic variation.

"It's actually worse than we thought for the grey nurse shark because low levels of genetic variation mean that the population's not going to be very robust to any environmental changes such as global warming," he said today.

"And the fact that the population's not getting replenished by migration adds further concern to the population decline."

Studies have suggested east coast grey nurses could be extinct within 50 years unless immediate action was taken.

Dr Stow, from Macquarie University's Department of Biological Sciences, said an estimated 500 grey nurse sharks remained across the eastern seaboard.

Several factors had contributed to their decline, he said, including excessive hunting in the 1960s and 70s and their inability to give birth to more than two pups at a time.

That was because of "intra-uterine cannibalism" – where the young eat each other during development, leaving only a single surviving pup in each of a shark's two fallopian tubes.

But Dr Stow said importing sharks to breed and strengthen local populations had risks, including stress associated with relocation and the transmission of diseases.

"One possible way of circumventing disease risk might be artificial insemination for example," he said.

"It has been carried out with other sharks, (but) it hasn't been carried out with the grey nurse shark as far as I know."

Dr Stow said the grey nurse, often dubbed the "labradors of the ocean", were not man-eaters.

"They kind of look a little bit formidable ... however their teeth are designed to catch a slippery fish and they're not at all designed for chewing up a mammal," he said.

"They're pretty inoffensive."

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