“Virgin Birth” Record Broken by Hotel Shark

A wild zebra shark swims off Thailand (file picture).   Photograph by Rodger Klein, Getty Images

Charles Choi

for National Geographic News

Published January 6, 2012

She may be confined to a desert hotel, and far from any males, but a zebra shark named Zebedee is record-breakingly fertile.

The female shark, which lives in a restaurant aquarium in Dubai‘s Burj Al Arab, has experienced four straight years of “virgin births”—a feat never before documented among sharks, according to marine biologist David Robinson.

(Related: “Shark ‘Virgin Birth’ Confirmed.”)

Experts at the resort—billed as the world’s most luxurious—had seen Zebedee lay eggs before, but had assumed they held no offspring, because she is never in the presence of any male zebra sharks. Hotel staff first discovered she was reproducing asexually in 2007.

“We were actually moving the eggs, and one of the guys felt something move inside the egg, and we checked the eggs with light, and there were babies inside,” Robinson, assistant aquarium operations manager at the Burj Al Arab, told the BBC.

“We went looking for it, but I don’t think we were ever expecting to find it,” he said. “So we’re just awestruck.”

(See a picture of the Burj Al Arab surrounded by lightning.)

Virgin Birth Not So Rare in Sharks?

Zebedee is reproducing parthenogenetically, meaning that embryos are developing from eggs unfertilized by male sperm. Although her offspring are genetically very similar to her, they aren’t identical clones, since her DNA is recombined during the reproductive process.

Virgin births are known among many invertebrates and a variety of vertebrates, including hammerhead, blacktip, and bamboo sharks. (See “Hammerhead Shark Gave Virgin Birth in Omaha Zoo.”)

“Everyone’s looking for it in sharks now, and I think it’s always there to be found,” said marine biologist Demian Chapman of Stony Brook University in New York State.

“Since a very wide range of sharks can do it, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that all sharks can do this.”

(Related: “Virgin Birth Expected at Christmas—By Komodo Dragon.”)

Story Continues -> “Virgin Birth” Record Broken by Hotel Shark


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