There is an exhibition center in Australia with a very unique attraction: a dead and preserved great white shark.
The shark, known as Rosie, is suspended in a tank at Crystal World, in Victoria, which is owned by botanist, geologist and entrepreneur Tom Kapitany.
Visitors from far and wide come to visit her for free in the parking lot of the center, but that was not always the case. Before that, she was discovered in an abandoned wildlife park, in green, toxic sludge.
So, how did she get there?
Before being preserved, Rosie the shark once swam in the waters of Portland, South Australia. This is before she got entangled in a tuna net in 1997.
Kapitany, Rosie’s new owner, was not there at the time, but knows the history.
He told News week that Rosie’s life ended when she got entangled in a tuna net to the point where she was “fumbling around.”
“Everyone was too scared to go in and get her out […] if you do that to a white shark, it will bite and eat you. So everyone is too scared to go in and the problem with these animals when they get severely stressed their blood starts boiling and that just kills them. So instead of having her knocked into the net, they used one pole with a bullet in it. And they put a bullet through her head, so that was instant death,” Kapitany said.
The 18-year-old shark was then put in a tank and transported to the Wonderland Game Reserve in Victoria, where she was put in a tank of formaldehyde – a highly toxic preservative – where she would remain for years to come.
Then, in 2012, the park was closed and all the attractions were taken away. Aside from Rosie… Rosie spent several years in a dark shed in the abandoned park.
It wasn’t until urban explorer Luke McPherson ran into Rosie in 2018 – while looking around the abandoned amusement park – that she caught global attention.
McPherson took a video of the discovery and posted it to YouTube, where it has now been viewed more than 17 million times.
“The problem with that was that all these other people wanted to come and do the same thing, they wanted to see Rosie the shark, even though it was private property. People started breaking in there at night and they destroyed all the buildings, exhibition halls and galleries and all old entertainment shows,” Kapitany said.
People also decided they wanted to take some of Rosie’s teeth and broke open the tank to do so.
“They broke all over the tank and exposed the really, very toxic formaldehyde, to the point that when we got to see the place you needed oxygen or breathing masks to get in there. Full hazmat suits and everything because it was just so bad,” Kapitany said. “The owner started to panic because of the public liability issue. And so they went to destroy Rosie. […] I said, ‘I’ll have her.'”
And the rest is history.
Kapitany teamed up with colleagues to restore Rosie to her former glory and bring her to Crystal World – a center dedicated to crystals, fossils and minerals.
“I’m one of these instant decision type people. I just don’t hesitate and worry about the consequences at a later date. As a kid I played with stuffed animals and put them in jars of alcohol and formaldehyde. So I’m used to playing with formaldehyde,” Kapitany said.
However, Rosie was so neglected by the time she came to Crystal World in 2019 that the tank was incredibly toxic.
Kapitany decided to replace the inside of the tank with glycerin – a much safer, natural preservative.
Rosie is now in about 5,000 liters of glycerin, allowing visitors to see her clearly, and away from toxic chemicals.
While Crystal World doesn’t fully track visitor numbers, they estimate that approximately 50,000 people visit Rosie each year.
“It’s important to keep specimens like Rosie white [sharks] are a protected endangered species,” Kapitany said. “Preserving and displaying hair is about education and preserving natural history. Making people aware of ocean life, and even a dangerous-looking shark, could be of interest worldwide.”