30 Aussie Sharks Sent To Europe's Largest Aquarium Have All Died

Endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks were traded from the Great Barrier Reef for display in Europe's largest aquarium. All 30 of those sharks are now dead.

Sea Shepard France has launched legal action against Nausicaá Aquarium for causing serious bodily harm to the sharks, which were traded to the aquarium for display in 2011 and 2018.

The sharks were caught in Australian waters on the Great Barrier Reef on behalf of the Nausicaá, which is located in the French port of Boulogne.

Hammerhead sharks. Source: Getty.

The first batch of juvenile hammerhead sharks in 2011 were allegedly caught in the natural environment, while the second batch were traded from a nursery on the reef to Nausicaá.

Sea Shepard France is seeking to understand why the aquarium has persisted in wanting to exhibit the animals despite repeated failures to keep the sharks alive.

The organisation has stated in its complaint against Nausicaá that the aquarium is responsible for "serious bodily harm and non-compliance with the rules on the detention of wild animals in captivity, resulting in death".

Nausicaa Aquarium. Source: Getty.

Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns at the Humane Society International, told 10 daily it was "not surprising" that the hammerheads ended up dying because the species is very prone to stress.

Philippe Vallette, manager of Nausicaá, rejects Sea Shepard France's claim, instead claiming the animals died from a "fungus, latent in the organism of sharks, which spreads when they are in a weakened state".

READ MORE: Culling Sharks On The Great Barrier Reef Has Come To An End

READ MORE: Believe It Or Not, Aussie Shark Numbers Have Plummeted

Vallette maintained the hammerheads were prone to this fungal infection, even in their natural environment.

Speaking to the Guardian, Ryan Donnelly, chief financial officer of the company which traded the hammerheads to Nausicaá, Cairns Marine, said the deaths of the sharks was "absolutely saddening" and they all underwent thorough health assessments before being shipped.

Nausicaa Aquarium. Source: Getty.

Is the trade of hammerhead sharks from the Great Barrier Reef legal? 

Put shortly, yes.

Beynon said that even though the scalloped hammerhead is listed as endangered by the globally-recognised International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this status has not been adopted by the Federal Government.

Instead, the species is listed as "conservation dependent" -- a listing that exempts fish with commercial use from protection even if they qualify for endangered status.

Beynon referred to this as a "cop-out clause" and called it a legislative anomaly that only exists to protect commercial fishing and trade practices.

Scalloped hammerheads are the only animal in Australia which qualify for endangered status but are not listed as such. This is despite numbers declining by up to 92 percent off the east coast of Australia over the past 55 years.

Scalloped hammerhead shark. Source: Getty.

Where are these sharks coming from? 

Fisheries approved by the Federal Government for the fishing and aquarium trade operate with little transparency along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland East Coast Inshore Fish Fishery was approved by Environment Minister Melissa Price in 2018 for operation until 2021, and permits catching of three hammerhead species (including scalloped) for the meat trade.

Sharks legally caught for meat in the Queensland East Coast Inshore Fish Fishery. Source: WWF Australia.

Richard Leck, Head of Oceans at WWF Australia, told 10 daily that "hundreds of thousands of sharks are taken every year through that fishery" and many end up sold as "flake" in fish and chip shops.

Scalloped hammerheads are also caught in the fishery for shark fin exports to the Asian market -- this year, shark fins are valued at approximately $940 per kilogram.

Leck said the government altered federal environment law specifically in 2018 for the scalloped hammerhead "so that harvesting could continue".

There are two fisheries in the Great Barrier Reef to supply the aquarium and ornamental trade: the Marine Aquarium Fish Fishery (MAFF) and the Queensland Coral Fishery (QCF).

The federal approval for Queensland's Aquarium Trade Fishery specifies that 240 hammerhead sharks may be traded every two years for export.

Hammerhead shark legally caught for meat in the Queensland East Coast Inshore Fish Fishery. Source: WWF Australia.

Other species, such as the Maori wrasse, seahorses and sawfish, may be caught in the Great Barrier Reef area for aquarium trade but are not allowed to be exported.

Beynon said that she believes "Australians would be shocked and horrified to learn that such an iconic and endangered species is being commercially exploited in the Great Barrier Reef".

"'Conservation dependent' is only a category for fish -- if you were a koala and you were qualified for listing as endangered, you wouldn't be exploited and you wouldn't be commercially traded," Beynon said.