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StAR Project’s First Male Zebra Shark Pup Named Charlie

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RAJA AMPAT – The Stegostoma tigrinum Augmentation and Recovery (StAR) Project is a collaborative effort to recover Indo-Pacific leopard shark populations in the waters of Raja Ampat, Indonesia.

The project was officially initiated three years ago by a group consisting of governments, aquariums, conservation NGOs, and academic institutions from various countries.

In Indonesia, the project is led by the Head of the Regional Research and Innovation Agency (BRIDA), Prof. Charlie Heatubun, S.Hut., M.Si., FLS.

“This project is an innovative approach to revive leopard sharks as an important species in Raja Ampat–the heart of the world’s marine biodiversity,” he stated.

He then emphasised that this project highlights the West Papua Provincial Government’s commitment in sustainable development in protecting the health of the environment and its species, in order to provide economic benefits to the West Papua community through sustainable tourism.

Following the hatching of the first two female pups, Program Manager for StAR Project Indonesia Nesha Ichida announced exciting news from the hatchery on Kri Island, Raja Ampat.

The very first male leopard shark has successfully hatched on Sunday (25/9), weighing 90 grams and 30 cm in length.

The pup has been named “Charlie,” after Prof Charlie himself as the Head of West Papua’s BRIDA and Head of the StAR Project Indonesia Working Group.

It is in honour of the endless support and invaluable leadership he provided towards the project this far.

Over the past month, leopard shark eggs bred at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium were sent to Raja Ampat, and are steadily hatching.

The local aquarists have been tirelessly monitoring the eggs and applying the skills obtained from their initial training to ensure that the eggs would hatch successfully.

“This is an innovative breakthrough that is making history in marine conservation efforts, and I am very grateful to be involved and to actively contribute to this Zebra Shark Reintroduction program,” Prof. Charlie said.

“I am also very flattered that my name has been given to the very first male shark hatchling. I hope that the pups stay healthy and grow up according to our hopes,” he continued.

Overall, three of the seven eggs delivered from AZA partners have successfully hatched and are showing healthy growth rates.

Within the first week, Charlie the pup has grown to a length of 32 cm and a mass of 119 grams.

The two other female pups, both hatched on the 17th September, have also started to shift from their juvenile colour and pattern which resembles a zebra, to their adult pattern which resembles a leopard.

The healthy development of all three sharks is further supported by their ability to accept and feed on a variety of food, from shellfish, squid, and hermit crab.

Mortality rates are significantly high during the first month of a hatchling’s life, making it a critical period for the aquarist team.

Members of StAR Project’s aquarium partners are currently on Kri Island, providing additional training for the four local shark aquarists, emphasising on new-born care.

It is in the hopes of the StAR Project Indonesia Working Group and the global ReShark initiative, that the grow-out process will continue to run smoothly, and that success continues to follow the project in the months to come.

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