Shark puts some teeth into its move to aquarium

November 23, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

National Aquarium officials have never seen it happen. But it did. A shark gnawed its way through a collapsible canvas stretcher.

And seven people were holding it.

Fortunately, no one was hurt, not even the shark.

"The worst-case scenario is he rips out of the stretcher and he's lying on the ground," said Juan Sabalones, senior aquarist.

The shark did not end up on the ground. Mr. Sabalones and others moved it from the aquarium's Fells Point warehouse yesterday morning and into the recently renovated Open Ocean Exhibit. The exhibit, part of the aquarium's $14 million reconstruction of its two ring tanks, officially opens in December with 10 to 12 sharks, Mr. Sabalones said. The spunky sand tiger shark is now one of them.

"This guy is a little more hyper," said Bruce Hecker, the aquarium's curator of fishes. He should know, having caught the 8-foot, 180-pound shark off the coast of Delaware in July of 1990.

Mr. Hecker helped calm the shark, holding it by its snout, less than a foot from the same jagged, razor-sharp teeth that had shredded the stretcher. Mr. Hecker said he was not in any danger because he stayed behind the shark and did not go near the side of its jaw.

"If I'm ahead of that area, I'm in the danger zone," Mr. Hecker said.

The shark, known as CT 10-90, was one of nearly a dozen of the aquarium's sharks living in different locations this past year. Some were permanently released into the ocean. Some were lent to other aquariums. Some stayed in the aquarium's Fells Point warehouse. Six others were moved back into the Open Ocean Exhibit over the last three weeks.

The encounter with the sand tiger shark was expected to be unusual.

"It's my favorite one, because it's so bizarre," aquarist Maria Harris said. "Most of them are so predictable. You never know what this one's going to do."

Seven people were trying to lift the yellow, collapsible stretcher when the shark ripped a hole in it.

Unfazed, they brought another one. With Mr. Hecker holding the shark's head, where, he said, more than half of its weight lies, aquarium officials had no problem wrapping up the shark in the second stretcher.

Then they lowered the shark into a holding tank -- looking more like a coffin -- that was filled with salt water. From there, the shark was lifted into a second tank equipped with an aerator bubbling oxygen into the water.

"When we get high quantities of oxygen in water, it acts like a narcotic," Mr. Hecker said. "It breaks them down."

The aquarium's veterinarian then drew blood from the shark and checked its breathing. "Basically we treat them like trauma patients," said Mr. Sabalones.

After the brief exam, the van began the short trip to the aquarium. Along the way, three aquarium officials rode with the shark, putting plastic foam bricks into the tank to keep the shark from being bruised and to keep the water calm.

When the van arrived at Pier 3 of the aquarium, the holding tank was rolled next to the acclimation pool behind the Open Ocean exhibit.

The veterinarian measured the shark, gave it a physical, and weighed it.

Three divers entered the pool and, using a pulley system, lowered the shark and the stretcher into a new 220,000-gallon home.

By noontime, children gleefully watched the shark swim around the Open Ocean Exhibit. For Mr. Hecker, it was another shark move well done. "I think everybody's glad the sharks are back," Mr. Hecker said.

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