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Rescued, Rehabilitated, Released: A Shark's Story
Posted on February 16, 2018
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Last August, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre received a call about  a distressed fish on the beach in Stanley Park, Vancouver. Luckily, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Veterinary and Fishes teams was only 350 metres away at Ocean Wise’s headquarters and headed down to the stranded animal quickly. They found a female shark entangled in a fishing net, weakened and disoriented after sustaining significant skin wounds from the net, and from being washed up repeatedly on the sandy shore. Her breathing was shallow. She had a damaged spiracle and blood in one eye.

“The dogfish was in very poor shape when we found her,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at Vancouver Aquarium and director of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. “Our team, led by veterinary fellow Dr. Amy Gould, provided the 24-hour intensive care required to stabilize the dogfish when she was transferred to the Aquarium. The team was in the water, supporting her and ensuring she had water flowing over her gills. We were very worried that she would not make it through the night, but by morning she was showing signs of improvement.”

The North Pacific spiny dogfish (Squalus suckleyi) is a species of shark found along the Pacific coast from California to Alaska, and along the Aleutian island chain to the Asian coast and south to Japan. They live up to 100 years and are listed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).

Drifting ghost gear (lost, abandoned or discarded fishing equipment) can be fatal for marine life.

Entanglement by marine debris is a serious issue facing aquatic life, like the dogfish. Ghost fishing gear, including nets and ropes, as well as discarded trash such as the plastic strapping used in packaging and shipping, can become tangled in gills and or snared around the necks of animals and can result in inquiry, suffocation, starvation, and death.

In the days following her rescue, the dogfish began swimming independently and two weeks after she began eating squid when hand-fed by an Aquarium biologist. Over time, the team helped the dogfish transition to feeding from a target and then foraging for food. As her appetite and diet expanded, her wounds healed and she became much stronger.

“It’s been a long road to recovery for this spiny dogfish and she’s come so far. When her skin lesions were no longer visible, her spiracle and eye healed, and her strength and energy regained, we knew she was ready to return to the wild,” said senior Aquarium biologist Justin Lisaingo. “Seeing her healthy and able to swim away was incredibly rewarding.”

The Vancouver Aquarium’s vet technician Sion Cahoon rehabilitating the spiny dogfish.

Following six months of rehabilitation at Vancouver Aquarium, the team released the North Pacific spiny dogfish into Burrard Inlet on Valentine’s Day — making for an especially sweet day. It was also the first rescue, rehabilitation, and release of a shark for the Vancouver Aquarium in its 62-year history.

If you see a stranded aquatic animal, do not approach it and keep pets away. Please call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) for immediate assistance. If you would like to help remove harmful plastic from the ocean, please lead or join a shoreline cleanup. To participate in the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, visit www.shorelinecleanup.ca.


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  1. So wonderful that we have the Vancouver Aquarium Rescue Center for animals in distress. So good of you. You do such good work. Thank you from all of us who do care as well.