If successful, Leo will breed with the project’s female sharks, and fertilised eggs will be sent to Indonesia, where they will closely be monitored by marine biologists. After 150 days, baby sharks – known as pups – will emerge. When they are big enough, they’ll be released into the pristine waters off Raja Ampat.
Simmons said while there is no guarantee the project will bring back the Indonesian population, it’s a start.
“It’s better to never put animals in this position – the better method is to protect before extinction. But we will do everything in our power to recover them,” she said. “But we won’t recover every species we want to.”
Perhaps, more importantly, the project offers a unique approach to conservation that sees multiple agencies work across international borders. Globally, sharks and rays have declined by more than 70 per cent in the past 50 years driven primarily by overfishing, research published in Nature found two years ago.
About 37 per cent of the oceanic shark and ray species are now listed as either endangered or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Dr Leonardo Guida, a shark scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said Australia’s shark population is relatively healthy – boasting 328 species – but the bar is fairly low globally. Of those more than 300 sharks, one in eight are at risk of extinction.
Guida said sharks are one of the most vulnerable of all the animal groups to extinction because they take on average 10 years to reach sexual maturity, give birth every one or two years, and only have four to six pups.
He said breeding programs were one conservation method, but addressing the root causes of extinctions was a more effective approach.
In the case of sharks, this would involve minimising overfishing and climate change. In some cases, warmer ocean temperatures have resulted in weaker zebra shark offspring.
One possibility Guida offered was to increase marine sanctuary protected areas – which in NSW only form 7 per cent of the state’s ocean. Doing so would make animals more resilient, he said.
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