Conservation efforts for sand tiger sharks lead Ripley’s team to artificial insemination

Conservation efforts for sand tiger sharks lead Ripley’s team to artificial insemination

. - MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – In an effort to conserve the sand tiger shark population, a team at Ripley's Aquarium in Myrtle Beach is hoping to artificially inseminate its females during the spring mating season.

The process uses frozen eggs to help a woman conceive. Ripley's experts are hoping they can do the exact same thing with the female sand tiger sharks.

Sand tiger sharks aren't currently on the endangered species list. But Robert George, Ripley's chief veterinarian, said it is only a matter of time until the species is categorized as threatened. Learning how to reproduce the animals now could save them later.

"While they're not an endangered species, they are impacted by overfishing and if the world continues the way it's going, they probably will become that," George explained.

Sand tiger sharks don't mate in captivity and experts nationwide are trying to figure out why. Typically, both male and females go through a mating period in the spring, but scientists are finding that their mating cycles are not matching up while in captivity.

Ripley's is one of many aquariums across the country collaborating on this effort.

"The west coast, the east coast, from all up and down the country, are putting in money, time and effort," George said. "And now we're having a coordinated effort where each group is doing what they can do best with the facilities that they have."

Some are working on figuring out how to naturally breed the animals. Ripley's, however, is taking a different approach and working toward artificial insemination.

"We're still in the early days," George said. "What we hope to do is collect from some wild male sand tigers to study the semen and see if we can't chill it or cryo-preserve freeze it. Then, (we hope to) have that available when our females in the tanks go into heat."

They hope to learn a little more about the animals' biology and if there are any DNA differences between the male sharks in nature and the ones in the tank.

Sand tiger sharks are being studied because so many aquariums have them. If they're successful, Ripley's wants to apply what they learn when breeding other species of aquatic animals in the future.

The team is planning to head out in April to try to catch some of the males in the wild.

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