Monday, Dec. 20, 2004 | 8:54 a.m.
The 7 1/2 foot Great Hammerhead shark at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino's Shark Reef exhibit died Thursday night because of an infection, officials said.
It was the only hammerhead shark in captivity in North America.
The hammerhead, which did not have a name, had been on display in Las Vegas since December 2003, said Jennifer Rameih, marketing manager for Shark Reef, on Friday.
"She allowed millions of people to examine her up close, which was wonderful because so little is known about the hammerhead shark," Rameih said.
Staff at the shark reef noticed the shark was acting oddly at around 7 p.m. on Thursday, she said. A staff member called the veterinarian, who is on call 24 hours of the day.
The veterinary noticed some inflammation near one of the shark's orifices and gave it an antibiotic and steroid to reduce the inflammation, she said.
The shark continued to swim in irregular patters and finally stopped swimming, she said. Hammerhead sharks, like many species of sharks, must swim in order to breathe, she said. By swimming, the water flows over the shark's gills and it can absorb oxygen, Rameih said.
The staff at Shark Reef hooked the hammerhead up to a breathing apparatus, but decided the best course of action would be to perform an emergency procedure, she said.
The procedure revealed that the shark had a severe internal infection, which Rameih compared to "an appendix bursting and then getting infected."
The shark likely contracted the infection because sharks "prolapse," meaning they exude their intestines outside their bodies to cleanse the internal organ then suck them back in, Rameih said. While sharks are in prolapse, they are susceptible to attack. Another fish in the shark tank likely bit the shark's intestines while it was in prolapse, she said.
The hammerhead died around 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
The only other hammerhead sharks in captivity in the world are at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort and Casino in the Bahamas, said Jack Jewel, the general curator for Shark Reef, on Friday.
The hammerhead at the Shark Reef was caught off the coast of Florida and was transported to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino's Shark Reef in August 2001, Rameih said. The shark was only 4 feet long at the time, but over the next three years it grew to 7 feet 6 inches and weighed 95 pounds, she said.
The Shark Reef has no immediate plan to acquire another hammerhead, Rameih said.