The carcass of a critically endangered, juvenile female grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus, Rafinesque 1810) was recovered from a south-eastern Australian beach and subjected to necropsy. The 1.98-m-long shark exhibited advanced cachexia with its total weight (19.0 kg) and liver weight (0.37 kg) reduced by 60% and 89%, respectively, compared with a healthy individual of the same length. Marked tissue decomposition was evident preventing histopathology and identification of a definitive cause of death. At necropsy, the abdominal organs were abnormally displaced and showed marked reductions in size compared with a healthy individual of the same size. Importantly, a hook-shaped enterolith (HSE), with a rough surface and cream in colour, was found within the spiral valve of the intestine and is to the authors' knowledge, the first description of such in any marine animal. X-ray diffractometry showed that the HSE comprised the minerals monohydrocalcite (Ca[CO₃].H₂O; ~70 wt%) and struvite (Mg [NH4] [PO4]. [H2O]6; ~30 wt%). A CT scan showed concentric lamellate concretions around a 7/o offset J-hook that formed the nidus of the HSE. Nylon fishing line attached to the hook exited the HSE and was evident in the abdominal cavity through a perforation in the intestinal wall where the posterior intestinal artery merges. The most parsimonious reconstruction of events leading to enterolithiasis and secondary cachexia in this shark was the consumption of a hooked fish and subsequent hook migration causing perforations of the cardiac stomach wall followed by the thin, muscular wall of the apposed, sub-adjacent intestine.
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- CT scan
- sand tiger shark
- X-ray diffractometry