The Day Were we Found a Dead White Tip Shark

Rose suddenly came to me and said “Andre, do you want a white tip shark?” I was a little bit confused, did the director of the Gili Shark Conservation Project just offered me a shark dish? Luckily the answer was no. It turned out that her friends from Gili Eco Trust found a dead juvenile female white tip shark at the beach of the north side Gili Trawangan. They called Rose to ask if we would be interested to have it for research purposes.

Of course her answer was yes. With the boat of our partner Oceans5 Dive Resort, we drove to Gili Trawangan to pick up our first dead shark. While we were driving to Gili Trawangan I started to discuss a plan of action with the other members of our research team. What were we going to do with this dead shark? We currently have no sufficient equipment to do analysis.

Dissection of a white tip shark

The last time I did a dissection to a fish was in March 2016 and it was “only” bony fishes like garfish and bream with total length no more than 40 cm. Clearly showing I am not expert in necropsy or forensic biology. Now I have a shark lying in front of me and although it is a juvenile, it still reaches 83 cm total length.

I am excited and nervous at the same time. What would we find? With very limited tools, I started to cut from cloaca to just below the jaw. Luckily the surgical blade was sharp enough to go through the ventral side. Then, I could identify the internal organs one by one starting from the most obvious one, the liver which is quite big since its function is not only to breakdown fat but also to control buoyancy.

Would there be plastic inside her stomach?

We could identify the heart which is located below the jaw, spleen as a red blood cells factory, intestine, kidney and the most interesting part, stomach. I was expecting to find plastic inside but luckily all I found was heavily digested food and a small chunk of bony fish. The whole research team started cheering as it was our biggest fear that this beautiful baby white tip shark got killed by plastic. From our observation, there was no sign of damage in the internal organs. Most likely this shark got stranded at the beach during low tide while chasing a prey.

As we don’t have the tools or the funds to do further research, we will probably never know what happened to the beautiful white tip shark that’s lying in front of me. But I am grateful for the opportunity to study her up close and I hope that the samples we took will help our research in the future.

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