Egg hatching scheme releases endangered species into wild
A shark embryo wriggles in its egg as Donnha Barbara points at its tiny gills, noting it might be some six more months before it hatches.
The nursehound egg lies alone in a fish tank next to other controlled aquariums housing small-spotted catshark eggs, another endangered species.
Ms Barbara is following an extended diploma course in fish management at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology and has a work placement at the Malta Aquaculture Research Centre in Fort San Luċjan, limits of Marsaxlokk.
She has been entrusted with a project in collaboration with Sharklab Malta to hatch about 20 nursehound (scyliorhinus stellaris) and small-spotted catshark (scyliorhinus canicula) eggs with the aim of reintroducing them in the wild to compensate for their declining numbers, as large quantities of the species are being caught by fishermen as by-catch.
Eggs are removed by Sharklab members from dead sharks at the fish market and checked for viability at Fort San Luċjan before being placed into controlled aquariums.
Eggs have even been retrieved from sharks that had been dead for seven days.
Ms Barbara documents their development and makes sure the water conditions and temperatures are adequate.
When they hatch, they are observed at the centre for a couple of months until they are independent and can nurture themselves.
In the meantime, the development will be documented pictorially. This step-by-step guide for the nursehound and small-spotted catshark is the first of its kind.
The project gives the embryos an opportunity to live because they would otherwise be thrown away. It also debunks the myth that all sharks are big and dangerous.
Both species are not dangerous to human beings and feed on small fish and crustaceans. While the nursehound grows up to one metre long, the small-spotted catsharks are usually half that size.
Asked whether these species were related to the more common spiny dogfish, known locally as mazzola, Greg Nowell, from Sharklab, noted that they came from different family groups.
There are eight different shark family groups and some 500 known species worldwide.
Throughout the years, 36 species were documented around Malta.
Mr Nowell said the project also aimed at raising awareness about the decline of these species, which are caught by the hundreds as they usually swim in schools.
Also, compared to bony fish, which lay thousands of eggs, these sharks take long to reach sexual maturity and lay far fewer eggs.
The small-spotted catshark takes between eight and 10 years to mature and lays about 40 eggs a year. It will then take another six months for the fish to hatch.
A display of the project will be set up at the Mcast Agribusiness open weekend between Friday and Sunday at the institute in Qormi.
Introducing prospective students to the educational and career opportunities available at the institute, the event includes hands-on training in pet care and wine and olive oil tasting.
Visitors will be able to try out gardening and farming skills, tour the institute’s animal husbandry units, fields and the new agriculture multi-sensory area and observe fish and exotic animals.
It will be open on the Friday between 10am and 2pm, on Saturday between 10am and 8pm and Sunday from 9am to 6.30pm.