Wide interest in Mapua shark autopsy

A mako shark weighing nearly half a tonne, which washed up in the Mapua estuary at the weekend, has attracted international and national attention.

Touch the Sea aquarium's Richard de Hamel said the carcass of the 3.6-metre giant was being stored in an industrial freezer in Richmond, and an autopsy was planned for mid-December.

He hoped it might be possible to hold the autopsy in public, to allow people to see it and to learn more about sharks.

Mr de Hamel said he was initially going to do the autopsy but, because it was rare for such a large old mako to wash up or be caught, Wellington scientist Malcolm Francis from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Auckland shark expert Clinton Duffy were keen to be involved.

"At this stage, both are interested in coming down, and there's been a bit of interest from Andrew Stuart, the fish curator at Te Papa. It could be a bit of a party."

Mr de Hamel said Mapua man Dennis Crawford had alerted him to the shark while Mr de Hamel was teaching a class at the aquarium.

Mr Crawford had first seen the mako stuck on a sandbar and had re-floated it, but the shark became stranded again in the estuary.

Mr de Hamel said Mr Crawford then tied a rope around the shark's tail and, with the use of a motor boat, dragged it to the Mapua side of the estuary.

Mr de Hamel said the shark was showing only very faint signs of life at that stage.

He didn't know how old the shark was but thought it could be about 35. Its age could be determined in the autopsy by taking a cross-section of its spine. It was also hoped that the autopsy could shed light on how the species bred.

Mr de Hamel said mako were rarely caught, and this was partly because they were thought to be very smart.

He had been told of video footage of a mako approaching a baited hook.

The shark took hold of the bait with its two protruding front teeth and gave it a tug to see whether it was attached to anything. Determining that it was, the shark swam off.

It is still not known why the shark washed up. It could have been caught earlier or might have been dying of old age.