Scientists aim to dispel great white myths with public dissection

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The Independent Online

It is one of modern cinema's iconic moments: Richard Dreyfuss carving open a great white shark in Jaws to reveal a car licence-plate and a crushed can in its stomach. On Thursday, the Auckland Museum will stage a public dissection of a great white, attended by 1,000 watchers and streamed live online.

The 10ft shark, a juvenile female found dead last week entangled in a gill-net in Kaipara harbour on New Zealand's North Island, will be examined by scientists, who will measure its internal organs and find out what it ate before it died. They expect to discover various specimens of marine life, but not, they hope, any human parts.

They believe the feared great white has been unfairly maligned, and one of the aims of the public autopsy – the first of its kind – is to dispel some of the myths about a species officially classed as vulnerable. A museum spokesman said more people were killed by dogs every year than had been killed by great whites over the past 100 years. Great whites, which grow to up to 20ft long, can reach speeds of 25mph when pursuing prey and leap clear out of the ocean.

But even now, marine experts know relatively little about the species. Dr Tom Trnski, the museum's marine curator, said: "This is a rare opportunity for people to get a close look at a great white. Little is known about the life history of these apex predators of the ocean, and we hope to learn more about the shark's recent past."

Great whites are a protected species in New Zealand, as they are in Australia, and the Department of Conservation (DoC) has to be informed if one is caught or killed accidentally. This shark was frozen by the department. Wrapped in muslin to keep it moist, it is defrosting in the museum's loading bay. Dr Trnski will perform the autopsy with Clinton Duffy of the DoC. Asked what he expected to find in the shark's stomach, he said: "Maybe a seal, a penguin, or whale blubber; who knows? Whale sharks are bigger, but they eat plankton. When great whites get bigger, they feed on marine mammals."

* The autopsy will be screened on the museum's website, www.aucklandmuseum.com , from 2pm local time on Thursday (1am GMT).

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