21 Apr 2016

Marine maternity ward

From Our Changing World, 9:34 pm on 21 April 2016

Staff at the Island Bay Marine Education Centre are playing midwife to baby carpet sharks after one of their guests left some unexpected luggage behind.



Underwater specimens hum away in large glass tanks. They are on a short visit to the Island Bay Marine Education Centre before being returned to the sea.

A carpet shark caught in a fisher's crayfish pot one evening missed out on dinner, but the centre welcomed her in. Her stay was short but fruitful, because on the day of her release she began to lay eggs.


The centre has become the shark maternity ward, as one by one her eight eggs begin to hatch. It has taken around a year for the baby sharks to tug their way out of their eggs.


Julian Hodge, from the Bait House Aquarium, has been watching the shark eggs with a keen interest, as have many of the volunteers who come and help each Sunday.

“We take bets on how long we think it might take. We all got it really wrong so that cost me a couple of lunches!”


Carpet sharks are very common around Wellington, and often stay in shallow waters where it’s warm.


They eat worms and shellfish and other marine organisms.


But Julian has got his carpet shark babies, including one nick-named Millie, on something a bit more gourmet, feeding them sliced up mussels and sardines.


He says the local community has been enthusiastic about the shark eggs.


“Over the last 12 months a lot of people have been coming in and checking on the progress over the eggs as you can see them wriggling around inside”


Acting as foster parents for the eggs comes with a huge responsibility for Julian and his team at the centre.


“To the best of our knowledge no one has been able to do this in New Zealand before - look after the eggs from the day they’re born to the day they hatch - so there is a lot of unknowns and a lot of pretty cool information from that”