Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, April 22, 2013
Mutant shark spurs bidding war on eBay
Owner sold oddity for $10,600, will be part of traveling freak show

The recent fame of a two-headed dead shark caught off the Florida Keys has dramatically increased the sea creature's value. It sold for $10,600 on Thursday.

The shark's owner, Florida Keys Community College Dean of Marine Sciences Patrick Rice, put the oddity up for sale, after stories and photos of the shark pup went viral on the Internet. Rice had been approached by Ripley's Believe It or Not and other freak show-type businesses.

"There was a lot of interest in it. That's what prompted me to sell it," Rice said.

Rice placed the shark on the bidding and shopping website eBay last week. The bidding ended Thursday when the shark was purchased by John Strong for $10,600.

Strong was born into a circus family, according to his website. He performed magic and juggling in Big John Strong's Circus, a small circus that traveled the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s. He started collecting oddities at 11. He managed the last circus sideshow associated with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey in 1978 for two years fresh out of high school. He is also the youngest person ever to perform a 1-finger handstand. He has swallowed swords and fire for nearly 30 years, most notably in the movie "Batman Returns," the website states.

Strong owned a similar specimen years ago, but it was stolen. He is coming to South Florida soon for a show and will travel to the Florida Keys to pick up the shark, which has been preserved in a glass jar.

Rice plans to put the profits toward his business, Shark Defense Technologies. The business is researching how to convert discarded shark parts into a shark-repellent bait treatment that would be used on longline fishing vessels. The research is intended to reduce the incidental take of sharks mainly by commercial longline fishermen targeting swordfish and tuna, Rice said.

"It was a rare oddity, but I thought I could do more good by selling it and using the money for research," Rice said.

It gained national attention earlier this month after a study stated the shark was not a conjoined twin, but a mutant two-headed shark.

It suffered from a condition called axial bifurcation, a deformity that results from the embryo beginning to split into two separate organisms, or twins, but doing so incompletely.

The condition is also called dicephaly, or two heads, said Michael Wagner, an author of the report and researcher at Michigan State University.

The fetus was inside a bull shark caught off the Keys in April 2011.

A local fisherman gave Rice the specimen.

The shark was the subject of a report in the Journal of Fish Biology that was co-authored by Rice.

Two-headed sharks are rare, with only about six reported cases in history. It's the first case in a bull shark, Wagner said.

The shark also had two stomachs and two hearts before merging into one creature, Wagner said.

It was among several extracted from the mother shark.

The other shark pups were released back into the ocean and swam away, Wagner said.

It was doubtful the two-headed shark would have survived in the wild, as it was about half the size it should have been and had a much reduced spinal column, the researcher said.

Wagner could not determine the cause of the mutation, speculating it was some kind of "natural" genetic mutation. There was no evidence that it was from pollution, radiation or any kind of man-made causes, he said.

The foot-long pup was kept intact and not dissected when it was studied. The shark was shipped to Michigan State University where it was X-rayed and underwent an MRI.

tohara@keysnews.com

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