One of the reef sharks Blacktip Island researchers are modifying to glow in the dark, prior to being injected with bioluminescence. (photo courtesy of Richard Ling)
A group of Blacktip Island geneticists, citing safety concerns, this week have released multiple glow-in-the-dark sharks within the island’s Caribbean reef shark population.
“Many people, especially visitors, are scared of sharks,” Tiperon University-Blacktip marine science professor Ernesto Mojarra said. “This allows people to see them better. If swimmers know where the sharks are, and aren’t, they’ll feel better about going into the water. This’ll be a game changer when tourism kicks in again.
“We got the idea from all the recent news stories about other glowing fish,” Mojarra said. “Lots of species bioluminesce. We just enhanced a natural process by flipping the switch on some of our reef sharks. One simple injection in the dorsal fin does the trick, almost like we’re tagging them, so there’s no real negative effect on the fish.”
Local residents praised the breakthrough.
“Safety wise, the glow isn’t so effective in the day, though you can sort of see them when it’s overcast,” Wendy Beaufort said. “But at night they’re quite beautiful. We chum around the resort docks in the evenings and watch the light show.
“They tried it with nurse sharks first because they were easier to tag,” Beaufort said. “But nurse sharks tend to just lie on the bottom, and no one’s scared of them, so it was pretty underwhelming. Then Ernesto’s team switched to reef sharks and BAM! things really took off. It makes night dives so much cooler, too.”
Animal rights activists condemned the practice.
“These are completely unnatural and unnecessary acts inflicted on wild animals,” Chrissy Graysby said. “There’s no sound, ethical reason for doing this to sharks. No one has ever been attacked by a shark on Blacktip Island. This is grossly unethical and goes beyond animal cruelty.
“There’s also been no studies of the long-term negative effects this process has on sharks,” Graysby said. “We have no data on whether these injections decrease the sharks’ lives or lessens their ability to hunt. Or of being eaten by other sharks. We’ve called the International the SPCA. They’re sending a team to investigate. If they can get across the borders.”
Island businesses, however, see the glowing sharks as an opportunity.
“Once tourism opens up, these suckers’ll be a hell of a draw,” Club Scuba Doo owner Ham Pilchard said. “The Chamber of Commerce posted some videos online, and they’re already getting a ton of hits. Right now, we’re ramping up getting as many sharks injected as possible.
“We’re primed to be the premier tourist destinations in the Western Hemisphere,” Pilchard said. “No one else has what we have. These glow sharks’ll be the new face of Blacktip Island tourism. Our motto’ll be ‘Blacktip: Island of the Glowing Sharks!’”