Taiwan hesitant to supply Whale sharks

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The Taiwanese government has reportedly been hesitant in supplying a pair of Whale sharks requested by the Georgia Aquarium, three months after the mysterious death of a previous specimen.

According to a report from Atlanta Journal Constitution, officials from the Taiwan Fisheries Agency have raised concerns about the death of the Georgia Aquarium's previous Whale shark, Ralph, after it requested two more of the fish for its displays.

Hung Kuoyao of the Taiwan Fisheries Agency told the AJC that they did not want to see another Whale shark die. He said that the Georgia Aquarium may need to send representatives to Taiwan to argue their case before the government allows further sharks to be exported.

The previous shark, which died in January 2007, was 6.7m/22' long. It had been a resident at the Aquarium along with another male named Norton since June 2005, several months before the facility officially opened. The sharks were joined in last year by two female Whale sharks.

Force-feedingAn external parasite found in the Aquarium, described as a "leech", led to a series of treatments being administered to the tank housing Ralph and Norton.

After several of the treatments, the appetites of the two male Whale sharks declined. The two female Whale sharks, which were not exposed to as many doses of the chemical, have not shown the same behaviour.

According to the Georgia Aquarium, Ralph's health declined further and he began to lose his appetite and was swimming abnormally, and had to be force-fed to keep him alive. AJC claims that the remaining male Whale shark, Norton, is also being force-fed because he too is no longer feeding normally.

Regular medical examinations were made in the following weeks to allow staff to monitor the fish's health.

The Aquarium said: "As precautionary measures, supportive therapy (food, fluids, medications, etc.) for Ralph and Norton was administered; thorough diagnostic testing was begun; water quality and other environmental parameters were reviewed, and exhaustive around-the-clock behavioral monitoring was initiated. Additionally, the method of treating the leeches was changed."

A necropsy was undertaken by staff from the University of Georgia College of Medicine last month, which revealed that the shark had a stomach abnormality not seen in the surviving Whale shark, Norton.

"Findings show that Ralph's stomach appeared abnormal, because it was thin-walled and perforated. This likely caused peritonitis, which led to Ralph's death. There is no evidence that anything in the Ocean Voyager s environment led to Ralph s death," said Jeff Swanagan, the Georgia Aquarium's executive director.

Captive whale sharksThe sharks came from Hualien in Taiwan, where the sharks are a food species with an annual harvest quota. The Georgia Aquarium is one of only four aquaria in the world housing Whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, the world's largest fish species.

The Georgia Aquarium worked with the Taiwanese government to obtain the fish, which are the only captive specimens outside Asia, and the world's largest collection of the species in an aquarium.

The two female Whale sharks, named Alice and Trixie, were added to the Aquarium in June 2006, after being exported from Taiwan in a specially modified UPS Boeing 747.

Unnamed chemicalHung Kuoyao told AJC that representatives from the Aquarium travelled to Taiwan after the death of Ralph: "They reported us on how they exhibited and fed the shark and also their research on the death of it.

"So our experts will check very carefully on the conditions of transportation and how they will feed the two whale sharks. Our experts will decide on whether we need people from Georgia to come again and report to us on this."

AJC claims that the Aquarium has not named the chemical that may have been responsible for the sharks' loss of appetite, but it has confirmed that the chemical will not be used again.

AJC says that external experts believe the medication administered may have been dylox. Its sources claim that dylox can cause loss of appetite in sharks and rays when used improperly.