The death of a 5-foot-long white-tipped shark on the set of a Kmart commercial has caused uproar in the animal rights community, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals calling into question the policies of the American Humane Society regarding animals on film sets.
While filming the Kmart spot in Los Angeles on March 6, the shark, which had been transported from New York in a tank, became distressed and exhibited stress, according to Julia Gallucci, an animal behavior specialist with PETA, who cited several anonymous tipsters that contacted her organization. After a few hours in a 60,000-gallon pool, which PETA says that several people were jumping in and out of during the shoot, the shark had to be removed, and soon died, she said.
"Sharks have exceptional sensory systems, and can detect low frequency movement. It was possibly over-stimulated, scared and not used to humans," she told ABCNews.com.
Gallucci said that PETA is calling on the AHA, who are responsible for the "no animals were harmed in the making of this film" statement in credits, to review their guidelines for shoots, and answer why they approved the shipment and use of what they believe is a sensitive marine animal. PETA is also demanding a necropsy to determine the cause of the shark's death.
"Repeatedly, we see [the AHA] falling short when it comes to protecting animals," Gallucci said. "They never should have approved this. They should have immediately stopped shooting when the shark was showing signs of stress."
Karen Rosa, director of American Humane Association's Film & Television Unit, told ABCNews.com that PETA's claims about what happened at the shoot are "completely inaccurate." Rosa said that the organization had a representative on set during the shoot, and that people were not, as PETA claims, jumping in and out of the pool. The shark was observed throughout the shoot, she said, and when it began to look ill, the AHA rep said it should be examined by an aquatic vet.
"They did do some emergency treatment. They gave the shark oxygen and an adrenaline shot, so they could stabilize and transport him and examine him," Rosa said.
But the shark died later that day. While PETA says that the shark was in the pool at 9 a.m. and began to show signs of distress around noon, Rosa said that it wasn't until early evening when it fell ill. The AHA has launched a third party investigation with an aquatic specialist, Rosa said.
The AHA did not monitor the transportation of the shark from the East Coast. Rosa noted that commercial shoots have a very short lead time, and that in this circumstance they were notified that the shark would be on set the day prior to the shoot.
"I think it would be great if we could have the funding to monitor more transportation as well as on set work," she said. "We're a non-profit, and our jurisdiction is on the set. And each circumstance is so different."
Shark s are rarely used on film and commercial shoots, according to Rosa, and when they are, the AHA looks at each case individually. She said that PETA and the AHA have two different perspectives: PETA feels animals should not be used on film, while the AHA does.
Gallucci said this shark's death signals a need for a sea change within the AHA.
"They need to take a hard look at their guidelines and the species they allow, she said.
Kmart has released a statement regarding the shark's death.
"We take this matter seriously and safety is always our paramount concern. 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. We are saddened by this incident," the company said.