Siam Ocean World helps restore cat shark population

The brownbanded bamboo shark, indigenous to both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, is decreasing in numbers. But there is still hope for this fish, known as a "cat shark" because of its whiskerlike barbels, now that Siam Ocean World can breed them and release them into the sea.

Siam Ocean World and Thai AirAsia have collaborated to bring 20 cat sharks to their new home at Hat Chao Mai National Park, a marine reserve in Trang province, with the purpose of increasing the species' population in nature and restoring the ecological balance.

This species is small for a shark, averaging 60 centimetres in length. The adults have no colour patterns but the juveniles have beautiful dark transverse bands with some dark spots.

So they are fit for keeping in private aquariums, and their popularity as pets is one of the factors reducing their population in nature, with a corresponding loss of habitat and an increase in pollution and illegal fishing.

Hat Chao Mai National Park is one of the places where the catshark population has dramatically decreased.

"There are very few brownbanded bamboo sharks living in the national park area. Their population was impacted by the use of otter trawling," said Narong Pongeiad, head of the marine national park. Otter trawling is a form of seabottom fishing.

Fortunately, Siam Ocean World, the famous aquarium in Bangkok, has successfully bred cat sharks and can prepare them to survive in the ocean.

"First we feed the sharks with dead prey, then we slowly change their food to live fish so they can learn how to catch their prey themselves in nature," explained Wibul Rakseri, head of the department of aquaticanimal care at the aquarium.

Wibul added that the facility was not confining such efforts to cat sharks. "Now we are working hard to breed other rare species of marine animals and plants to return them back to nature."

Transport of the sharks to the sea is important too. They are not fed for three days to reduce defecation during the journey. Then the sharks are packed into plastic bags with aerated water so they could breathe, then packed into thick Styrofoam boxes.

Thai AirAsia has taken on the responsibility of carrying the sharks back to the sea, using this as an opportunity to promote its new route from Bangkok to Trang Airport.

The airline's head of engineering, Prishaya Rathsamithanin, said Thai AirAsia had cooperated with Siam Ocean World before on a similar mission two years ago in Phuket. That was the first time the aquarium had released the brownbanded bamboo shark back into the sea.

"We look forward to helping restore the sea's ecological balance, and we will not hesitate to work with Siam Ocean World again," Prishaya said.

Twenty primary students from Wat Pratumwanaram School in Bangkok have joined in this project to learn the importance of marine ecology and the need to love and protect the sea.

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