A remarkable 63-year-old Canadian woman has visited the UK to lend a hand in a pioneering shark breeding programme being launched by the Sea Life centre network.
Ila France Porcher, who spent 15 years snorkeling with blacktip reef sharks in Tahiti until they were caught and finned, helped launch the project by snorkeling with sharks at Brighton Sea Life Centre
Sea Life has more than 70 mature blacktips at its centres in Britain and Europe and has already had successful births in Holland and Germany.
Now a major breeding project is underway which could hold the key to replenishing wild stocks denuded by fishermen.
“Ila knows more about these sharks than anyone, and has given us lots of valuable advice,” said Sea Life marine expert Chris Brown.
“She has also helped us devise a survey form which our visitors can use to help monitor our sharks for signs of courtship and mating,” he added.
“This will enable us to plan ahead to ensure the safe delivery of pups.”
Ila wrote a book about her Tahitian experiences which is about to be reprinted in second edition titled ‘The Shark Sessions.’
In it she describes regular encounters with a group of more than 300 blacktips, many of which she identified and named by sketching their individual fin patterns.
A wildlife artist turned ‘ethologist,’ her discoveries have contributed to numerous scientific papers on thinking or ‘cognition’ in sharks.
Ila, who now lives near Vancouver, enjoyed her first swim with blacktips for five years when she took a dip in the ocean tank at Brighton Sea Life.
She then visited the National Sea Life Centre in Birmingham where she sketched the fins of the resident blacktips.
After her shark friends in Tahiti were brutally finned for the Chinese shark-fin soup trade, she and local dive clubs successfully lobbied to get French Polynesia designated the world’s largest shark sanctuary.
“Numbers have recovered on the reefs of Tahiti because the island was their nursery, and many pups evaded the shark-finners because they were hidden among the corals,” said Ila.
The Convention on International Trade in Endagered Species (CITES) has reported that 7-per-cent of all sharks are killed every year. In 2010 alone it calculated 97 million were slaughtered.
“Captive breeding is essential to replenish wild stock,” said Ila,
It is hoped the Sea Life programme will provide a ‘model’ for fuiture breeding programmes to reintroduce sharks to the wild.