Love is in the air or at least in the water at the Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach. The non-profit’s resident swell sharks mated at the end of 2017, and in October the babies began to emerge.
“This is our first experience that our swell sharks have mated successfully enough to produce the eggs,” said CCA Executive Director Christine Johnson.
Known as oviparous reproduction, the swell shark’s eggs exit the female’s body enveloped by a shell with wiry tendrils that allow it to attach to kelp or rocks. These protective envelopes are know as mermaid purses and can be up to 2 inches wide and 5 inches long. It takes ups to 9 to 12 months for the pups (baby sharks) to develop enough to escape from their pouches.
Swell sharks (Cephaloscyllium ventriosum) received their name from their ability to double in size when threatened. If confronted by a predator, the shark will bend into a U-shape and swallow copious amounts of water allowing it to double in size. The defensive maneuver makes it difficult for the predator to bite the shark or dislodge it from its craggy refuge and makes them more intimidating.
Home to the waters off of the California coast and parts of the South American west coast, the nocturnal fish can grow up to 43 inches long and resides in the rocky shallows from 16 to 121 feet, though some have been found at depths of 1,500 feet (250 fathoms). Proportionally speaking, its mouth is larger than that of a great white shark and contains up to 120 teeth. However, the shark’s size makes it no threat to humans, and visitors have the opportunity to touch them at the aquarium’s Shark Encounters exhibit, though, with their yellow-brown skin that is covered in dark splotches and white spots, the sharks probably will not be winning any beauty contests.
Johnson said that the organization was able to adjust its collection permit with the California Fish and Wildlife department so when the time comes, the sharks can be released into the wild. With help from local divers, CCA will also place the viable embryonic pouches into the ocean, so the sharks not yet born can do so in the wild.
In October, the Aquarium released its Giant Pacific Octopus back into the Ocean. Named Joan in honor of local philanthropist and Aquarium supporter Joan Gellert-Sargen, the eight-armed cephalopod was returned to its aquatic home due to the non-profit’s size restrictions. Already at two-feet, the octopus could grow up to six-feet long, which is far too large for the facility to handle.
For more information, visit the Central Coast Aquarium Facebook page.
By Mark A. Diaz