Shark set for ‘virgin birth’ at UK aquarium

Friday February 12 2016

A whale shark in an aquariam in Jeju, SOuth Korea on August 22, 2012. A female shark in the UK Kingdom is expected to give birth to two babies despite not laying eyes on a male for over three years. PHOTO | AFP

A whale shark in an aquariam in Jeju, SOuth Korea on August 22, 2012. A female shark in the UK Kingdom is expected to give birth to two babies despite not laying eyes on a male for over three years. PHOTO | AFP 

By JACQUELINE KUBANIA
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A female shark in the United Kingdom is expected to give birth to two babies despite not laying eyes on a male for over three years.

Marine biologists at an aquarium called Yarmouth Sea Life announced recently that a white-spotted bamboo shark, which has been kept in captivity and has had no contact with a male of its kind, has produced two fertilised eggs.

Speaking to the BBC on Thursday, Darren Gook, a marine biologist at Yarmouth where the miraculous shark is housed, said that the baby sharks will be born in the next 15 weeks.

“We rescued the shark over two years ago from a different aquarium. She started laying eggs over a week ago. We have ruled out the possibility that she is producing hybrids by mating with a shark from a different species as sharks are known to do. We also know that some sharks have been known to store sperm for a period of time, but three years would be really pushing that,” said Gook.

CERTAINLY PECULIAR

He added that although the case of the shark’s virgin birth is certainly peculiar, it is not a first time occurrence in the animal kingdom.

“Virgin births have been known to occur in many animals of different species, such as reptiles, amphibians and birds but it’s never been recorded in sharks until the year 2000/01 when a female bonnethead shark that was held in captivity gave birth without any male contact,” he said.

The process by which this happens is called parthenogenesis, in which when female animals are unable to access males to mate with, they go into emergency mode and develop an extra set of chromosomes enabling them to fertilise their own eggs.

The offspring from such asexual reproduction end up being invariably female, and are either a clone or a half clone of their mothers.