Last week, VICE published an article about a dead shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde at an abandoned Melbourne wildlife park. Journalist Don Kransky entered the former tourist attraction, found the shark tank, and captured some eerie photographs of the semi-preserved great white, which had been originally caught in a fishing net off the South Australian coast in 1998.
So the secret of the “discount Damien Hirst” is well and truly out—and the dilapidated wildlife park, which closed its doors to the public some six years ago, is experiencing a fresh wave of tourism as a result. Such is the enthusiasm for the decaying great white that local authorities have issued a statement to inquisitive members of the public, warning them to stay away from the premises where the four-metre-long beast resides.
“PLEASE KEEP AWAY. Police are aware of a great white shark floating in a tank of formaldehyde in an abandoned location in Bass,” reads the post, published to the Eyewatch—Bass Coast Police Service Area Facebook on Friday night. “We understand that numerous members of the public are attending the site to visit the shark. Please be advised that this location is on private property so we advise the public not to attend the area. You run the risk of being charged with trespassing offences.”
But that's just one of the risks faced by people who visit the shark. The murky green formaldehyde that the animal is floating in is described by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry as a “colorless, highly toxic, and flammable gas at room temperature that is… used most often in an aqueous solution stabilized with methanol (formalin). Most formaldehyde exposures occur by inhalation or by skin or eye contact. Formaldehyde is absorbed well by the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and, to a lesser extent, skin.”
Exposure to formaldehyde can variably result in bronchitis, pneumonia, or dermatitis, and can cause blindness if exposed to the eyes. In poorly ventilated or enclosed areas, it can also result in asphyxiation and death.
Footage and reports of the shark tank indicate that the glass has been cracked and the roof of the vitrine pried off, potentially leaking noxious formaldehyde fumes into the room. A recent comment on the YouTube video further suggests that “a day or two ago some vandals went in and destroyed the tank and now bio hazard teams are having to do a clear up”—although VICE could not independently verify this claim.
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