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10 Feb, 2016 13:15

Smells fishy? Shark expecting ‘virgin birth’ in British zoo

Smells fishy? Shark expecting ‘virgin birth’ in British zoo

A female shark held at a British zoo is expecting two babies, despite having never come into contact with a male of her species for more than two years, scientists believe.

The white-spotted bamboo shark has lived at Great Yarmouth’s Sea Life Centre since 2013 after her previous home in Hunstanton was damaged in floods.

Her handlers say she has not had contact with any male sharks since the move and remains the only member of her species at Great Yarmouth.

Despite her captive celibacy, experts claim she has produced two fertile eggs, which could hatch in nine months’ time and become the first British births of their type.

It has recently been discovered that some species of shark are able to conceive without a male. The fertile eggs at Yarmouth come days after a research center in Munch, Germany, announced a virgin birth in the same species of shark.

The eggs have been moved into a monitoring tank, where experts will examine them until they hatch. Zoo visitors will be able to watch them grow.

They will be the first such births in the Sea Life network and we’re excited and privileged to be expecting such a miraculous event,” Marine biologist and shark expert Darren Gook said.

“The process is called ‘parthenogenesis’ and has long been known to occur in domestic chickens and some reptiles, but was not recorded in sharks until 2008.

“Females somehow manage to add an extra set of chromosomes to their eggs to produce offspring which are either clones or half-clones of themselves.

“It’s been recorded in bonnethead, blacktip and zebra sharks as well as white-spotted bamboos.

“It was assumed offspring born this way were infertile and it was an evolutionary dead-end, but events in Germany have now disproved that.”

Gook also said the phenomenon could be explained by a reduction in the numbers of the species, leading it to reproduce with itself in order to ensure the species survives.