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ECCO's 'virgin birth' could make a splash in shark world

A baby shark from a 'virgin birth' was a rare occurrence. A baby shark from a 'virgin birth' was a rare occurrence.

Kortney Clark used a pair of ordinary looking scissors to execute an extraordinary bit of marine animal surgery. Peering through a couple of inches of aquarium saltwater, she carefully cut an egg casing the thickness of a fingernail that enclosed a baby shark. When the painstaking process was complete, so was the virgin birth — one that potentially would make a splash in the world of shark research.


The ECCO Aquarium had achieved what might be a historic moment. They’ve watched baby embryos develop from an egg before but Thursday around 2 p.m. was the first time they had hatched a baby shark, called a pup.
“She’s a pretty big pup in there,” Ramer said.
The downtown aquarium, which got the new larger shark tank in February, has been caring for and studying sharks for years under the guidance of BJ Ramer, the museum director and mentor to many young amateur aquatic researchers. That includes Clark, who started as a volunteer as a young teenager and has worked her way up to assistant director. She’s a student in the veterinary tech program at AB Tech.
SharkTeamThe shark team, from left, was Kortney Clark, Amanda Garrett, Meghan Fortner and BJ Ramer.The pup appeared to be viable —swimming around as soon as she was freed from the egg case. She’ll be fed by a yolk — a yellow ball no bigger than a pinkie fingertip, attached to her body. If she makes it for a week and is liberated from the yolk, the little aquarium 250 miles from the nearest ocean may make news that the shark world will cheer nationwide, even worldwide.
In parthogenesis, a female that ordinarily breeds with a male will become pregnant spontaneously. Parthogenetic births are common in the insect world and have been documented in snakes and turkeys and in sharks, too. But the embryos the females produce don’t usually survive once their freed from the protective case. The pup born Thursday had been gestating in the shell since July 21, when a female named Epa shed the egg.

"We have had several eggs start this process over the last couple of years, but none have survived," Ramer said before Thursday's "delivery." "This egg from July 21 is thriving. The pup is large and showing strong movement, fin development, eyes, and regular breathing patterns."

Sure enough, when Clark finished clipping her out, Epa's offspring looked strong.
“She’s already made history, living this long,” Ramer said.
The last recorded parthogenetically birthed shark to become viable longterm happened around 19 years ago at an aquarium in Detroit, Ramer says. On Friday afternoon, Ramer reported that the pup was alive and well, having survived the critical 24-hour mark.

AB Tech veterinary tech teachers Amanda Garrett and Meghan Fortner were on hand to assist with the birth and with an earlier procedure, to draw blood from a 3-year-old bamboo shark named Stanlie that seems to be suffering from seizures.

"This is different than cats and dogs," Garrett said.

"This is the first time I've drawn blood from a shark," Fortner said.

If the pup survives — she doesn't yet have a name yet — ECCO plans to arrange for DNA tests of mother and baby to confirm once and for all that the pup is a clone.
ECCO planned to spread the news about the parthogenetic birth to shark researchers who were waiting to hear about the pup’s condition, including the North Carolina Science Network and the North Carolina Science Museum.
“They’re waiting on our pictures,” Ramer said.