SHARK SHOCK: Local aquarium's 'virgin' whaler gives birth
A LONE female shark that gave birth to a pup on January 3, which was eaten by a tank mate two days later, has left staff at a Urangan aquarium fishing for answers.
The nervous whaler shark came from Fraser Coast waters about six years ago and has lived alone in the Neptunes Reefworld tank during that time.
Despite the pup's unfortunate run in with a hungry cod or groper, University of Sunshine Coast doctor and animal ecologist Dominique Potvin said the "virgin birth" was still a fascinating event.
Known scientifically as parthenogenesis, Ms Potvin said the process was a rare occurrence in vertebrate species.
It is common in invertebrate species like stick insects and other fish but not sharks. "It's pretty incredible and it is quite rare because all the stars need to align for this to happen," Ms Potvin said.
"It does occur but we haven't known about it in sharks that long.
"Essentially, if a female senses that a male hasn't been around for a really long time sometimes her body will try and reproduce anyway.
"Normally this wouldn't work but sometimes the little egg cell finds what's called a sister polar body, which is kind of like two cells coming together rather than an egg or a sperm."
Ms Potvin said baby sharks born from this genetic process could be disadvantaged, with a low chance of survival.
"The problem is, once it does happen, the baby will only have genetics of one half of what it is suppose to have ... with no mixing of genes it is the most inbred you can be.
"Being eaten by a groper is one thing but it may not have survived that long anyhow."
In the last 30 years of the family run business, Greg Wolff has seen local coral and a lone sea snake reproduce by themselves but never a shark.
"It's quite surprising really and it's funny because when you google the information as to why it happened, it doesn't really line up," he said.
"They all say sharks hold semen inside for four years and things like that but she has been here much longer than that.
"A lot of things happen here that marine biologists shake their heads at ... the number one thing is keeping the coral alive, living and growing in the tanks.
"That's sort of been something that has been hard for some of the marine biologists to get their heads around, but it works."
As for the demise of the pup, Mr Wolff said it was anyone's guess as to who the hungry culprit was and - without any notice of the impending birth - there wasn't a suitable tank available.
"It's just one of those things... she was in a captive environment and we didn't go out of our way to breed, next thing she's got a pup in the water and we didn't really have anywhere else to put her."
"Unfortunately I guess one of the cods decided that they liked her more.
"We don't know exactly who, but there's only a couple of fish in there that are big enough to make a whole shark completely disappear."
Mr Wolff said the aquarium is open every day of the school holidays, with staff only too happy to guide visitors for a meet and greet with their star shark.