Cliffhanger For Eric The Shark
Eric the tropical 'epaulette shark' has become something of a celebrity at his home…the Weymouth Sea Life Park.
Epaulettes belong to the family known as 'carpet' sharks because of their habit of lazing on the seabed, but Eric has loftier ambitions.
In fact Eric positively shuns the bed of his tank, preferring instead to hang precariously over a small outcrop of rock in the top corner of the Park's 'Shark Reef' display.
From his aerial perch he idly observes the frenetic comings and goings of bonnethead and zebra sharks and host of colourful reef fish.
"It's very bizarre behaviour and as far as we can discover, Eric's the only epaulette shark in the whole global Sea Life network who does this," said curator Fiona Smith.
"The rocky shelf only supports a small part of his abdomen, which means his head and his entire tail just hang loose, and it looks incredibly uncomfortable."
Eric's perch is so close to the top of the tank that he is also rocked gently too and fro by a steady surface current created by the water inlet pipe.
"The combined effect is to make it look like he's in trouble," said Fiona.
After months of having to convince skeptical visitors that Eric does not need rescuing, staff have placed a sign above his ledge reading: 'Don't worry about me - I'm fine.'
Native to shallow tropical waters off Australia and New Guinea, epaulette sharks get their name from the large dark spot just above their fins.
They grow to only just over three feet and are nocturnal, using those pectoral fins like paddles to shuffle across the seabed or coral reef..and even occasionally to come out of the sea entirely and make their way to tidal pools.
They can lower their heart and ventilation rates to survive on the much reduced oxygen levels found in such tidal pools, and can switch off parts of their brain.
Even though he spends most of the day dozing, however, Eric's favoured resting place has made their encounters with him far more memorable for many Park visitors, than those with the more active occupants.
"He's also a bit of a favourite with the staff," confessed Fiona.