Baby Great White Shark Washes Onto Shore — And People Know Just What To Do
His name is Fluffy.
In the past, when sharks have washed onto the beach, it hasn’t always ended well for the animals. Selfie-obsessed people have been known to drag them onto the sand to pose with them in front of cameras, which often kills the sharks. But when a juvenile great white shark washed onto a popular beach earlier this week in Sydney, Australia, beachgoers knew exactly the right thing to do.
After finding the male great white shark (estimated to be 2 or 3 years old) flopping around on the sand, people contacted Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, a conservation center that rescues and rehabilitates ocean animals. A rescue team quickly arrived to help the distressed shark.
Sharks can’t breathe without swimming, so getting the shark back into water was of the utmost importance. At the same time, the team needed to make sure the shark wasn’t injured or sick, so they didn’t want to put him right back into the ocean. Instead, they moved him into a nearby ocean pool, which was filled with natural seawater.
Rob Townsend, the life sciences manager at Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, started calling the shark “Fluffy” as a joke — but soon everyone was doing it. “That was me just chatting to some kids on the side of the pool and it just stuck,” Townsend told The Dodo.
While Fluffy swam around the sea pool, Townsend made sure a diver was always there to babysit him.
“White sharks prefer the open oceans and do not do well within the confines of captivity, which is why you don’t usually see white sharks in aquariums,” Townsend said. “We needed the divers to guide him away from the walls so he didn’t further injure himself.”
Passersby were fascinated with Fluffy, and Sharnie Connell, vice chairperson of No Shark Cull, an organization that campaigns for the protection of sharks in Australia, believes that Fluffy may have changed many hearts and minds about great white sharks.
“It was incredible to see so many people of all ages able to see this majestic animal and to witness it completely break down all the misconceptions and stereotypes they had about these animals,” Connell told The Dodo. “They were able to see firsthand that these animals are not mindless killing machines.”
After he spent a few hours in the pool, the rescue team moved Fluffy to a holding tank at the Manly Sea Life Sanctuary, where his health could be more closely monitored. And once Townsend gave Fluffy a clean bill of health after a couple days, the shark was ready to go back into the ocean.
On Tuesday morning, the rescue team took Fluffy out on a boat, and released him into deeper waters — hopefully far enough away for him to not return to shore.
Connell is pleased by how responsive the public has been to Fluffy’s rescue. But at the same time, she worries about the lack of protection sharks have in Australia.
While the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists great white sharks as a vulnerable species, which technically protects them under Australian law, the government has been targeting and killing all species of “nuisance” sharks with shark nets and baited drumlines for the past 80 years, Connell told The Dodo, including great whites.
“This is done in the name of beach safety, but science tells us that culling programs do not work to reduce the chances of shark bites,” Connell said.
Instead of killing sharks, Connell is urging the Australian government to use nonlethal methods to protect swimmers, like shark spotter programs or drone technology to detect sharks long before they get to shore.
Hopefully, Fluffy will never see the likes of a shark net or drumline, and he’ll spend the rest of his days swimming in deep water.
“We have been involved in dozens of rescues over the years but this one was certainly unique,” Townsend said in a statement. “It was truly a privilege to work with this species and it is always great to be able to release an animal like this back to the wild and to see the amount of public support he had.”