The Mystery of the Smelly Sharks

Brier Sharks, Deania calcea

On Tuesday 21st of October 2003 some divers reported seeing lots of small dead sharks lying on the bottom in about 8 metres of water at Camp Cove, just inside the entrance to Sydney Harbour.

Brier Sharks, Deania calcea

A few days later local diver Vaughan Kirkby also saw these sharks and collected about twenty of them. They were a very unusual looking shark definitely not Port Jacksons or Wobbegongs which are the main shark species seen around Sydney. NSW Fisheries and the Australian Museum were contacted about the find. Mark McGrouther who manages the Australian Museum's Fish Collection suspected that they might be brier sharks. This is a deep-water species that grows to 110 cm. They certainly look like brier sharks if you match them on the Australian Museum's fish pages

Brier Sharks, Deania calcea

The sharks were more than a week old when collected and were putrid but something else smells. How did 30+ of these sharks, which are usually found in 400-900 metres of water, come to be in 8 metres of water at Camp Cove?

About half of the sharks had been filleted and the best guess anyone has come up with is that a fishing trawler caught the sharks, then pulled into Camp Cove while heading to drop the haul at the Fish Markets, filleted the sharks for flake and then just tossed the discards overboard.

Brier Sharks, Deania calcea

Trawling at depths of 400+ metres is uncommon and also to catch so many of the same bottom dwelling shark species seems to suggest that brier sharks aggregate in large groups on the seafloor?

Shark numbers all over the world are collapsing. In NSW the dwindling population of Grey Nurse Shark is well known. Recently wobbegongs numbers have been declining dramatically. In Australia Brier sharks are not targeted commercially so this lot were probably just part of the unlucky by-catch.

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