Monday, August 17, 2009
As you may have heard, the Aquarium now has a young female tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) on exhibit in Shark Lagoon! In honor of this groundbreaking display, I’ll be writing about the beautiful girl for my next couple blogs.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be up close and personal for a Saturday morning feeding.
Tiger sharks are a notoriously difficult animal to maintain in an aquarium. You may have heard how hard it is to keep great white sharks and how our neighbor aquarium to the north (Monterey Bay Aquarium) has been one of the very few that were successful in this. Well, tiger sharks are just as difficult, if not more.
One of the big difficulties with white sharks is that they need space that most aquariums just can’t provide. Tiger sharks, however, present a whole different set of challenges. One is that they are very particular and while they may be voracious feeders in the sea, (nicknamed the “wastebasket of the sea”) in an aquarium they have historically been very picky about what they will or will not eat.
We are presented with an awesome opportunity to study a tiger shark that has spent it’s entire life in captivity. Why is that so incredible? Animals that are born in a captive environment are traditionally much easier to study and care for. With this young tiger shark, we can discover facts about the species that no one else has been able to document.
There are so many animals in the sea that humanity has little understanding of, in part because we just haven’t seen all the stages of their life cycle. We now can watch and learn from each stage of the life cycle as this tiger shark grows up! Our studies can help us understand and protect tiger sharks, so future generations can experience healthy tiger sharks in their natural environment and in public aquariums.
So with this in mind, I was very excited to step up to the sides of Shark Lagoon for the feeding. The staff at the Aquarium have gone through at least 30 different types of food in just as many days to find out what the tiger shark likes to eat. On this morning, we were trying fillets of skip jack tuna and fillets of halibut.
Standing alongside the walls of the exhibit, the approximately 4 and a half foot long female would slightly turn on her side as she swam past us. It was clear she was watching us, just as much as we were watching her.
One by one, the fillets were held under the water’s surface with tongs and she swam by a few times checking them out first. After a few passes she came up and took the first fillet of halibut. A couple of fillets she would try and then spit out. Others she would just look at and then swim by. Some of those fillets had vitamin pills inserted inside them and she sensed that, maybe via smell, because she would ignore them and just turn to watch us. It was as if she was saying, “nice try, fellas, I don’t want to take my vitamins!” I suppose kids of all species aren’t fans of vitamins! :-)
In the end, she ate about a third of the food we brought out. That’s a decent amount compared with other days, but it’s important to consider that tiger sharks can go for weeks without eating in the wild. There have been days where staff members have had to come out each hour to tempt her with different foods until she finally ate. She rejected around 12 different types of gourmet seafood that day!
All in all, our tiger shark is doing very well and continuing to grow every day. While showing the typical pickiness of a tiger shark in an aquarium, she is also helping us to develop an excellent feeding plan. She is one of only a small handful of tiger sharks on display in the entire United States and is a great ambassador for not only tiger sharks, but all sharks worldwide.
Next time I’ll talk some more about the continually changing exhibit design and what it took to bring this beautiful shark here. See you then!
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