Hunt for missing shark’s head continues

Historian Dan Snow is leading an appeal to recover the head of a rare smalltooth sand tiger shark.

The two metre (6ft) long shark was initially found on Lepe beach, Hampshire, on Friday.

According to The Guardian, a member of the public, Alisha Openshaw, attempted to rescue the creature. In a video filled with colourful language which some may find offensive, she drags it into deeper water, but it was subsequently found dead on the shore.

“I was fully aware it was a shark,” says Openshaw, according to the BBC. “It wasn’t until I actually got hold of it that I realised how big it was.”

With the help of her mother, Openshaw managed to help get the shark swim forwards and it was seen swimming later that afternoon.

“I wasn’t really thinking it was a shark, I was more concerned about helping it.

“But there was a point where it rolled over and showed its teeth and I was like, ‘Oh, oh.’

“It was wonderful when it finally swam off.

“I honestly thought that he might be alright because he obviously swam off, but then he did turn around and started to swim back towards us so we got out the water,” she says.

After it was found dead on the beach, Dan Snow (the historian with a large social media following who lives nearby), was asked to secure and examine the rare creature for scientists.

“I saw on Twitter that this shark had washed up on my local beach, and I posted something funny about it,” says Snow (the ‘funny’ content was a reference to Jaws). “Then I suddenly got all these messages coming in from my scientist friends saying this is incredibly unusual.

“They told me: ‘You’ve got to try and secure it for science, it’s really special’.”

Image courtesy of Hampshire and IOW News

However, before he arrived, the head, tail and fin had been cut off and taken. He says he put the remainder of the corpse in a local farmer’s fridge, where it will be stored until someone from the Zoological Society of London arrives to collect it today (21 March 2023).

In the meantime, he’s made several pleas for whoever took the head to return it, saying the shark’s an exceptionally rare visitor to the UK.

“Please, please – if you have the head get in touch. The scientists want to have a look at it, and then it’s yours to keep.

“Scientists say that no shark of this species, of this scale – it’s well over two metres long – has ever washed up on UK shores before,” he says.

“If people want the jaw for their clubhouse or whatever, they can keep it,” he told the BBC.

“But if they can just let the scientists have a good look at it first, that would be really community spirited of them.”

Speaking about the removal of the shark’s head, Openshaw says: “It’s just barbaric. I don’t understand it and isn’t it random that someone has the shark’s head in their house at the moment?”

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are estimated to be fewer than 250 of this species remaining.

Shark Trust dismayed

A spokesperson for the Shark Trust told ITV they were dismayed at the barbarity.

“While efforts were made to secure the specimen for research, recent images show that the shark was butchered overnight with the head and tail removed.

“The head in particular holds the key to unlocking intricate details of the sharks life, even from before birth, so we’d welcome news of its whereabouts.”

Ali Hood, the trust’s director of conservation, says “Keeping specimens intact is always preferable, especially exceptionally rare encounters like this.

“There is so much we are yet to learn and the head in particular holds the key to unlocking intricate details of the shark’s life, even from before birth.” She says an example of this was the lenses in a shark’s eye which develop in utero, and that “analysis of atoms in the lens, through a technique known as stable isotope analysis, can help identify where a pregnant female was feeding.”

Social media commentators are in full discussion about what could have happened to the shark’s head, fin and tail with comments about trophy hunters, and soup. One asks: ‘If people are going to steal the head and tail from the shark what makes Dan Snow think an appeal from him will make any difference?’

“It is absolutely incredible that in the space of a few months, we have seen a walrus and a shark on the same stretch of New Forest coastline,” says Prof Russell Wynn, director of Wild New Forest, speaking to the New Milton Advertiser. “These really are two of the most incredible sightings – even in the context of the last century so the fact that they happened within such a short space of time in such a tiny section of the coastline is quite remarkable.

“This is massive news in a New Forest context and, although incredible, it is sadly very likely to be a sign of the changing climate.”

The shark in Hampshire is not the only unusual animal to have been discovered inhabiting the region recently. Thor, the walrus, was spotted napping on a Hampshire beach in December 2022 before making his way up the east coast of the UK.

Unless specified, images courtesy of Alisha Openshaw via facebook.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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