Mating sharks spur haven call

Caught on camera: White-tip reef sharks seen mating in an undisclosed shallow reef area of the proposed Semporna Shark Sanctuary.

KOTA KINABALU - The mating ritual of white-tip reef sharks caught on camera in the diving heaven of Sipadan is boosting conservationists' call for Semporna to be a declared a shark sanctuary.

A group of tourists diving off Sipadan managed to capture pictures of the sharks mating in waters off Semporna.

For the experts, the pictures debunk views that the sharks were merely passing through the waters off Semporna and reaffirms their view that the area is a breeding ground for many shark species.

Conservationist and shark expert Rohan Perkins said the area had the most diverse marine eco-system that boasted the endangered scalloped hammerhead sharks as one of its attractions, as well as many species of ray fish, such as the graceful manta and eagle rays.

He added that the white-tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) was commonly seen by divers in Sabah as it inhabits shallow reefs.

The fish is often seen motionless at the bottom during the day due to its ability to pump water over its gills.

Perkins said the International Union for Conservation of Nature assessed the white-tip reef shark and the grey reef shark as "near threatened", noting that their numbers were dwindling due to unregulated fishing.

The slow reproductive rate and limited habitat preferences of these species also render the sharks vulnerable to extinction.

Marine biologist Richard Owen, who has been diving in Semporna for the past 10 years, said: "We have seen a decline in the area of many species of sharks due to increased fishing and the demand for their fins and other products.

"Live sharks are a completely renewable resource to the local economy, as well as vital to the health of the marine eco-system."

Borneo Conservancy director Daniel Doughty said the proposed Semporna Shark Sanctuary was vital to the protection of breeding and aggregation grounds and the survival of the species.

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