A great white shark exhibited at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium has been reported dead after just three days in captivity.

The great white, a 3.5 meter (11.5 foot) long male shark, had been caught in a fishing net off Yomitan Village in central Okinawa on January 4 and then moved to the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium the following day .

The aquarium began exhibiting the shark that same day, and the news attracted considerable attention, as great white sharks, made famous by the best-selling novel and movie Jaws, are apparently extremely difficult to keep in captivity, due to difficulties related to the sharks’ feeding and swimming in a tank. The longest period a great white shark has been kept by humans seems to be the 198 days a young female shark was kept at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California before being released back into the ocean in March of 2005.

According to the aquarium’s website, the shark appeared to be fine and was swimming in its tank without problem as of January 7, but its condition suddenly deteriorated on the morning of the 8th and the shark stopped swimming, sinking to the bottom of the tank. Despite efforts by aquarium staff and veterinarians, the shark did not recover and was reported dead later that day. During the time the shark was kept at the aquarium, it was the only great white shark on exhibit in the world, and it was hoped that this would be an opportunity to learn more about great white sharks, much of whose habits and life cycle still remains unknown.  An investigation is currently underway to determine the precise cause of death.

Not surprisingly, the news of the shark’s death after such a short time in captivity has resulted in criticism from PETA ASIA, an affiliate of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). A comment from the organization’s Vice President Jason Baker stated, “The cause of death is clear: captivity. The shark never had to die like this.”

The unfortunate news seems to have evoked strong reactions, with plenty of comments online claiming that keeping any animal in captivity is tantamount to torture, and some even going as far as to criticize Japanese culture in general, including the practice of whale and dolphin hunting. At the same time, others have responded that animals dying in captivity is something that happens everyday and there are worse things happening out in the world to be concerned about.

However you feel about it, the death of the shark was certainly a tragedy, especially as so many people were thrilled to have the chance to see a great white shark in person when the aquarium first announced the exhibit. If we’re being honest, though, we can’t help feel that if presented with a live great white specimen, any aquarium in the world would find it difficult to release it immediately without first trying to study it at least for a while. But then, we guess that’s a dilemma that all aquariums and zoos, by their very nature, have to live with. Nevertheless, we’re certainly saddened by the untimely death of the shark.

Source: Mashable Asia via Associated Press, Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium website, Okinawa Times Plus
Top image: Wikimedia Commons