Nurse shark, Image- US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Lodon: Florence, a six-foot nurse shark, is creating ripples with her unusual dietary preferences - she is perhaps the world's only vegetarian shark.
Florence may have started life as a carnivore, but following surgery in 2009 to remove a rusty hook from her jaw, the predator is completely staying off fish or meat.
Florence's handlers at the Birmingham National Sea life Centre, often resort to devious tactics to get protein into her diet, hiding pieces of fish inside her celery, and even in scooped out cucumbers.
Curator Graham Burrows said: "We're having to hide pieces of fish inside celery sticks, hollowed out cucumbers and between the leaves of lettuces to get her to eat them. And it has to be well hidden, because if she realises it's there, she'll ignore the offering and wait for the strictly vegetarian option."
Florence's mouth is filled with razor-sharp, serrated teeth designed for demolishing fish and crustaceans. But the shark uses them for pulping broccoli and cabbage and any other greens she can steal from fellow ocean tank resident Molokai, a green turtle, according to the Daily Mail.
"She was off her food for a good while when she first arrived from Florida with three other nurse sharks at our main collection centre in Dorset," said Mr Graham. "She was given an ultrasound scan which revealed a fishing hook buried deep inside her mouth."
That is how Florence came to be operated on by specialist vet Nick Masters from the International Zoo Veterinary Group in Bristol. The ground breaking procedure saw Florence sedated, then lifted onto a makeshift operating table where Nick successfully removed the hook while tubes pumped saltwater through her gills.
"The hook had obviously been there for years and was badly rusted which is what had made her so ill," said Mr Graham. "She was put on antibiotics and made a swift recovery."
Mr Graham and his team are determined that their history-making shark is not going to fall ill again through lack of proper nourishment, and use every trick they can devise to make sure she has a proper diet.
"Nurse sharks do occasionally graze on algae in the wild, and we weren't surprised when Florence first stole some of Molokai's greens," said Mr Graham.
Story first published:
May 20, 2012 18:33 IST