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Shark dies in Kmart commercial shoot in the Valley [updated]

March 13, 2013|By Richard Verrier
  • A white-tipped shark died after a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys last week.
A white-tipped shark died after a Kmart commercial shoot in Van Nuys last… (Handout )

Kmart may have jumped the shark in a recent commercial shoot in Van Nuys.

A 5-foot-long white-tipped shark died March 6 after being shipped from New York to Los Angeles and placed in an above-ground pool in a Van Nuys backyard for a commercial for Kmart, according to a letter sent to the American Humane Assn.

The shark was injected with adrenaline and received oxygen from a trainer after it showed signs of stress. It was later removed from the pool and transported to Long Beach to be examined by a specialist, but the shark died that afternoon, the complaint said.

The incident triggered a rebuke of the American Humane Assn. -- the group charged with overseeing the welfare of animals on sets -- from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA, which is opposed to all use of animals in filming, has repeatedly raised questions about the nonprofit group's role. The AHA is responsible for the "No Animals Were Harmed" certification listed in film credits.

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"Sharks are sensitive animals who, in captivity, require a highly specialized and controlled environment,'' Julia Gallucci, an animal behavior specialist for PETA, wrote in a Tuesday letter to an association official. "Given the delicate nature of this species, why would the AHA approve the transport and use of the animal?"

Citing a "whistle-blower" who worked on the commercial, Gallucci said in her letter that the production company, Boxer Films of Los Angeles, had recommended against using a live shark. When the animal died, Kmart asked that a second shark be brought on set, but the production company refused and replaced the animal with an animatronic hippopotamus, Gallucci alleged in her letter.

Jody Frisch, spokeswoman for the AHA, said the nonprofit had asked a third party to investigate the circumstances of the shark's death. "We're trying to be responsible and find out what the cause of death was," she said.

Frisch added that the shark was placed in a 60,000-gallon water tank that was large enough to accommodate the animal and the AHA representative called off the shoot when it was clear the shark was ill.  The crew was not filming at the time, she said.

Although AHA reviews scripts and make recommendations on how animals are used in productions, it doesn't make "decisions about what animals are used, nor do we have jurisdiction over their transportation," Frisch added.

A spokesperson for Kmart parent Sears Holdings said:“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.”

 A representative for Boxer Films was not immediately available for comment.

In January, the former director of production for the AHA's film and television unit alleged that AHA thwarted her efforts to enforce AHA's animal safety standards and prevent "animal abuse and cruelty" during the filming of "Luck," which shut down in March after three horses were killed. The AHA declined to comment on the allegations but has said it acted within the scope of its jurisdiction.

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