An axolotl at UnderWater World, which marked National Threatened Species Day.
An axolotl at UnderWater World, which marked National Threatened Species Day. Warren Lynam

Threatened, not threatening

BEHIND the sharp teeth, ominous dorsal fin and three metres of shark flesh lies a misunderstood creature of the sea - one which is on the threatened species list.

The grey nurse shark has long endured a "bad rap" because of its fierce exterior, but yesterday this gentle giant was celebrated at UnderWater World as part of National Threatened Species Day.

UnderWater World aquarist Emily Thomas said the grey nurse shark was spearfished to near extinction in the 1960s.

"They look vicious, their teeth stick out, but they are completely placid and have no record of attacks," Ms Thomas said.

The axolotl - also known as the Mexican Walking Fish - was also highlighted as it is on the critically endangered list.

This strange fish-like amphibian with legs and fingers has rapidly declined in numbers because of massive habitat destruction.

The axolotl has the "really cool ability" to regenerate parts of its body. "If it loses part of an arm or a tail, it can regenerate it," Ms Thomas said.

"It also remains in larval form throughout its life. Most fish and amphibians have the ability to breath with internal gills, they have them on the outside of their body."

The axolotl is being used for research in the hope that we can learn from their ability to regenerate limbs.

Two other residents at UnderWater World came in for attention yesterday - the Australian sea lion, which is endangered, and the redtail sharkminnow, which is categorised as extinct in the wild.

National Threatened Species Day aims to encourage the community to prevent further extinction of Australia's fauna and flora and restore healthy numbers of endangered species and ecological communities in the wild.

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