The March 6 death of a white-tipped shark being filmed for a Kmart commercial has drawn national media attention and prompted an investigation by the American Humane Association (AHA) of the incident.
Whistle-blowers had contacted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) about the death, according to PETA spokeswoman Julia Gallucci.
The shark had been shipped from New York to Los Angeles and was transferred to an aboveground pool in a backyard for the shoot. The animal started showing signs of stress and an AHA representative at the shoot recommended it be moved to another facility for treatment.
However, despite efforts to save it, the shark eventually died, according to a letter PETA sent to Kmart detailing the incident.
"We take this matter seriously and safety is always our paramount concern," said a representative from Sears Holdings Corporation, Kmart's parent company, in response to questions from National Geographic News.
"We have been advised by our agency that the production company responsible for this shoot worked with professional animal handlers and a representative of the American Humane Association for the purpose of monitoring the shark's welfare," the statement said. "We are saddened by this incident."
Karen Rosa, senior adviser for the film and television unit of the AHA, declined to give details on where the shark went for further treatment.
"We are still awaiting the final report," she said.
The AHA—the organization responsible for certifying that "no animals were harmed" in film and television shows—was on hand during the shooting, said Rosa.
With films, the AHA gets a lot of lead time to look at a script and to schedule appropriate representatives to attend the shoot and monitor the animals, Rosa said. Yet "[with] commercials, there's almost no window at all."
Many certified animal safety representatives have backgrounds with many different species, she added. The AHA draws from former zoo personnel, veterinarians and veterinary technicians, and graduates of the Moorpark exotic animal training and management program.
The woman sent to the commercial shoot involving the shark was a graduate of the Moorpark program, Rosa said.
The AHA spokeswoman declined to give the representative's name. But she was the one who recommended the shark get additional care, said Rosa.
PETA's Gallucci said the shark should never have been used, in part because of the animals' sensitive natures.
"[Sharks] are very, very delicate—they have exceptional sensory systems," she said. "Exposing them to the noise and chaos of [a] shoot would have been extremely stressful."
Perry Hampton, vice president of husbandry at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, agreed: "In general, despite their tough appearances, sharks can be surprisingly delicate and challenging to look after."
The Long Beach aquarium was not contacted about caring for the distressed shark, and they weren't aware of where the animal was taken for further treatment, Hampton said.
"It didn't come to us," said Michael Schaadt, director of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in the nearby city of San Pedro. "And if it didn't go to the Long Beach aquarium, I don't know where else it could have gone."
The AHA's Rosa declined to say where the shark had been transported for additional care.