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Exporter shocked at death of 30 sharks

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Image: AAP/Mary Evans/Ardea/Douglas David Seifert

A Queensland marine export company that sent healthy scalloped hammerhead sharks captured off the Great Barrier Reef to a French aquarium will think twice before sending more.

Cairns Marine sent 18 young sharks to Nausicaa aquarium in the port of Boulogne, near Calais, in 2011 and another 12 last year but they have all since died, the last one in April.

The shark deaths have prompted an international legal action against Nausicaa and calls for the federal government, which approves these live exports, to stop the capture and trade of fragile and vulnerable species.

Cairns Marine chief financial officer Ryan Donnelly called the deaths "bloody dreadful" saying the company had not even been told the sharks had become sick.

Cairns Marine has not received any more orders from Nausicca and says while it would be up to the federal government to approve such a request, they would reserve the right to make their own judgment call.

"At the end of the day it is a transaction between us and them and we would reserve the right to make a call on that if we were not satisfied ourselves."

The French arm of conservation group Sea Shepherd has launched legal action against the aquarium claiming the sharks were mistreated over an eight-year period in captivity.

Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, said they were accusing Nausicaa of breaching the law by not making sure the babies were in a safe situation.

"They've put them together and as a result, the killed each other," she said in a statement.

"We must make sure Nausicaa, nor any other aquarium, is not allowed to capture vulnerable species in their natural habitat."

She called on the Australian government to stop the capture and trade of fragile species.

Mr Donnelly said the sharks were caught in an approved fishery area around the reef and were in "premium condition" before leaving.

"The heath of the animals is looked at every step of the way," he said.

"I don't know what became of the animals or why - what's happened is bloody dreadful."

They were about 70cm long when caught and were stabilised in the Cairns facility before being exported at 90cm.

The sharks were flown to a transhipping company in Amsterdam and then sent to Nausicaa.

Queensland Environment Minister Mark Furner said permission for live exports is a matter for the federal government.

"Animal welfare issues in other countries are a matter for the authorities in those countries," he said.

The federal environment department has been contacted for comment.

© AAP 2019