Jaw-dropping encounter with a seven gill shark

The broad-nosed seven gill shark lay peacefully yesterday, its eyes shut, and its mouth full of razor-sharp teeth closed for the final time.

The quite repose of its face was in sharp contrast to the visage of New Zealand Marine Studies Centre educator Steve Cutler, as the afternoon sun glinted on his razor-sharp knife, moments before the cold steel plunged into the flesh of the 2.5m female at the Westpac Aquarium in Dunedin.

"Now we've got down to the gut," he gleefully informed a crowd of awe-inspired youngsters, as senior aquarist Matthew Crane lifted the stomach into the air for all to see.

The shark, the same species thought to have bitten 14-year-old Lydia Ward at Oreti Beach near Invercargill earlier this year, had been brought to the aquarium in an unhealthy state by a local fisherman, and ended up as the star of a public dissection during Sharks of Otago, two weeks of shark-related events at the facility.

Blessed with a large brain, and about as intelligent as a dog, the Notorynchus cepedianus was carrying 114 eggs, which weighed 7kg.

The event attracted about 60 people, who "oohed and aahed" their way through the dissection of the shark.

Mr Crane said humans were usually "not on the menu" of the broad-nosed seven gill shark, and if the Oreti Beach incident had involved a member of the species, it was more likely to have been an investigatory nip, rather than an attack.

While numbers were down on the about 200 people who attended a dissection in 2005, the crowd had enjoyed the event, asked plenty of questions and discovered plenty of information on the lifestyle of the shark, he said.

The aquarium will hold a second dissection tomorrow at 5.30pm.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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