Troublesome Sharks Delay Cleanup of New Zealand Oil Spill

Mark Conlin, SWFSC Large Pelagics Program/Public Domain

In early October, the Rena, a Liberian cargo ship, ran aground on the Astrolabe Reef off the coast of New Zealand. As bad weather rocked the stranded ship, oil poured from its hull and many of the 1,368 shipping containers stacked on its deck fell into the water. More than two months later, cleanup efforts are ongoing, but the recovery of the containers that sank to the ocean floor are being hampered by unexpected trouble makers- hungry, aggressive mako sharks.

According to the New Zealand Herald, the sharks, which, with a top speed of 56mph, are the world's fastest, attacked sonar equipment being used to locate the containers. Clinton Duffy of the Department of Conservation told the Herald that the attack is not surprising. Given the elongated shape and propeller of the "sonar fish," the mako sharks could easily have mistaken it for potential prey.

All told, 89 shipping containers fell off the Rena; some floated to shore and others sank. Those that opened released their cargo, ranging from freeze dried coffee to beef, into the reef ecosystem. Even those still on the ship are at risk of coming loose. The Rena's position on the reef is precarious; it shifts with wind and waves. Salvage crews are working to remove the containers still on board.

The irony is that the sharks, which will eat just about anything, are damaging equipment that's being used to preserve their ecosystem. The mako is among several migratory sharks protected from fishing by a 2010 UN agreement, but is still counted as at-risk by Oceana.

Meanwhile, oil cleanup efforts on land are continuing, undisturbed by the sharks.

Follow Alex on Twitter.

Tags: New Zealand | Oil Spill | Sharks

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK