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Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK


Labour of love for 23 offspring

Wobbegongs are usually found lurking in coral reefs

After being in labour for 11 days and giving birth 23 times, you wouldn't begrudge the proud mother a bit of a break.

But for Gaynor the Australian wobbegong shark, the marathon birth is nothing unusual - and is expected to go on for a few more days yet.

What is significant about events at the Blackpool Sea Life Centre is that Gaynor is thought to be the first of her kind to give birth in captivity.

[ image:  ]
Experts monitoring the daily arrival of more of the 10-inch infants are predicting that there are a few more pups still to come.

The baby sharks have already developed sharp teeth, so staff are using chopsticks to feed them a diet of prawns, shrimps, ragworms, squid and chopped sand eel.

Wobbegongs belong to a group of sharks known as carpet sharks because they lie flat on the seabed awaiting their prey.

There are no records of them giving birth in captivity before, though sharks in the wild have given birth to up to 32 babies.

Moved into quarantine

Gaynor was named after a former member of staff at the Sea Life centre while the baby sharks' wobbegong father has been called Gary after another worker at the centre.

Experts realised the five-foot-long shark was pregnant four weeks ago.

Mark Geach of the International Zoo Vet Group carried out an ultra sound scan and confirmed the shark was due to have approximately 20 babies.

The shark was moved from the tank she shared with four other wobbegongs and some brown sharks and leopard sharks, to a quarantine tank.

She went into labour on 7 October, but her first pup died hours after its birth.

'Unique event'

Since then, however, 23 others have emerged and curator Paul Ashley said the staff were running a sweepstake, with the maximum number of off-spring put at 35.

He said: "This is so unique an event we weren't sure what to expect. The staggering of deliveries, for example, with 24 hours between each pair was completely unexpected.

"It is clearly a tactic to improve survival prospects in the wild."

Staff member Julie Hayes, who saw one of the pups arrive, said Gaynor raised her fins slightly and let out a shudder before the shark was born.

The 10in sharks are perfect miniatures of their parents, each having tassels of skin which hang down from the topside of their mouths to lure prey such as small fish and crustaceans.

Staff now believe a second wobbegong and a black-tipped reef shark might also be pregnant.

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