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Dead sharks shock diver, anger conservationists

Some of the dead shark pups found around Xlendi, Gozo, by diver Tim Rose.

Some of the dead shark pups found around Xlendi, Gozo, by diver Tim Rose.

Over 20 dead shark pups discovered during a dive around Xlendi, Gozo, have left divers and conservationists angered.

Diver Tim Rose posted the pictures of the dead shark pups on his Facebook page yesterday, and the images soon went viral.

Mr Rose said some of the sharks he came across appeared to have been slit open, while the majority looked intact. He added that a similar sighting had also been made at Għar Lapsi on Sunday.

Contacted by the Times of Malta, marine biologist Alan Deidun said that such sights are all too common in Maltese waters when fishermen dispose of unwanted bycatches.

Prof. Deidun said the shark pups appeared to be lesser-spotted dog sharks, known as gattarel in Maltese. They are so named due to the dark spots and blotches covering their skin.

Such an incident flies in the face of the voluntary work done by Shark Lab and the Malta National Aquarium in trying to bolster local numbers of the species

The species is found primarily over sandy, gravelly or muddy sea floors from depths of a few metres down to 400 metres. They are known throughout the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, from Norway and the British Isles to Senegal.

The shark is of low commercial value: the fact that it has to be skinned before it can be filleted discourages fishermen from intentionally catching the species. However, the sharks are caught accidentally when fishermen target other bottom-dwelling species.

They are reported to have a high short-term survival rate of around 70 per cent after being discarded from trawling gear.

The sharks are nocturnal predators which spend the day resting on the sea floor – which is why divers often manage to get extremely close.

The sharks are harmless to humans.

Prof. Deidun said bycatch like lesser shark species, rays and skates were frequently dumped in Maltese waters due to their low commercial value – mostly at Għar Lapsi and Sliema, but also beneath the fish market at Marsaxlokk.

“Such an incident flies in the face of the voluntary work done by Shark Lab and the Malta National Aquarium in trying to bolster local numbers of the species,” Prof. Deidun lamented.

Due to their slow growth rates, there is also a good chance that the sharks were caught before they had reproduced, he pointed out.

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