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Zebra Sharks!

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Fish | Sharks

Friday, September 07, 2007

David

One kind of animal I help take care of at the Aquarium are the zebra sharks Stegastoma fasciatum at Shark Lagoon. We currently have four of them there. Two are happily cruising in the large exhibit with the large sharks and rays. These two adult sharks have been dubbed Yin and Yang (Yang is the darker one and Yin is the lighter one). Two juveniles are in the small touch pool where they interact with guests. Wanna pet a zebra shark? They are very friendly.

Zebra sharks are one of the easier sharks to take care of because they are typically more relaxed than most sharks. This is because they are bottom dwelling sharks and do not need to keep swimming all the time. Many pelagic shark species, sharks that swim in the middle of the water column, are difficult to keep in an aquarium because they are more high strung and need a lot of room to swim in. How do we know when a shark is comfortable? You watch their body language or if you want to be really technical, count their tailbeat frequency. A nervous or otherwise upset fish will beat their tails much faster than normal. Whereas other sharks need to keep swimming, zebra sharks can just chill and that is why they thrive in aquariums. Usually, they don’t move their tails at all for hours on end.

Our zebra sharks eat like queens at the Aquarium. Queens because they are girls! Each meal is prepared everyday just the way they like it and fed to them with tender loving care. They are fed a combination of the freshest restaurant quality squid, clam, and fish. It takes about 2 hours every morning to prepare all the food for the Shark Lagoon animals. Unlike the other sharks, Yin and Yang are not that picky about what they eat. I usually give each of them a handful of headless sardines and whole squid without pens. Squid pens are the internal shells in the mantle of the squid that is left over from millions of years of evolution. They also like de-shelled clams and hoki fillets. Hoki, by the way, is a type of fish. Each shark is fed a specific weight of food depending on their size. The bigger they are, the larger the portions they get. The best part about feeding the zebra sharks is to see them slurp up their food like a vacuum which is totally unlike the way a pelagic shark eats. All zebra sharks at the Aquarium have been trained to come to the surface to get their food. Eventually, the little zebra sharks in the touch pools will have to move to a larger exhibit which will make it harder to feed them. Therefore in the coming months, it is imperative that we train them to come to us for food.

Zebra Sharks!
Yang is coming to get her food. One of the blacktips is swimming by.  | ©David Chen
Zebra Sharks!
This is the pelagic ray. She shares the exhibit with Yin and Yang.  | ©David Chen

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Boeluen

Wednesday, September 12, 2007 05:16 AM

Thanks David for your informative and well written entry! Not only do you share your experience with the zebra sharks but you also offer great “behind the scenes” knowledge about the foods they eat.

I was unaware that squids had internal shells. I always thought they were mainly several jelly like tentacles attached to a hard beak.

Would sharks eat hoki in their natural environment? It’s also on the lunch menu over here in some institution canteens - though I’ve not tried it myself.

It probably sounds quite silly or obvious but how do the zebra sharks expel the water they ingest when they “vacuum up” their meals?

Also, is there a particular reason you decapitate the sardines before they are fed to the sharks?

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David

Thursday, September 13, 2007 08:59 PM

First of all, thank you for the questions and remember, there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Most squids have pens in their bodies which maintain their shape. I say most because in the world of biology, there are always exceptions to rules. The only cepholopod without any shell at all is the octopus. Cuttlefish have an internal shell called a cuttlebone. Nautilus have visible shells.

Hoki is not a normal part of wild zebra sharks’ diet. Hoki, Macruronus novaezelandiae, is related to the cod and is found in temperate waters off the coasts of southern Australia and New Zealand. Zebra sharks occur in northern Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Zebra sharks’ range and that of hoki do not overlap. With that said, we offer hoki to the sharks because hoki flesh is rich in nutrition and the hoki fishery is sustainable which means that by using hoki to feed our sharks, we are not doing any damage to the environment. Unfortunately, many fish species are not fished sustainably and this does tremendous damage to the marine ecosystem.

Zebra sharks flap their gills as they suction up food. The water goes out their gills.

We cut off the heads from sardines because the zebra sharks like them that way. They refuse to eat sardines if the heads are still attached. All the sharks know they can get fed everyday and are offered plenty of food. So if they don’t like a particular food item or the way something is prepared, they will not eat it because they figure that there is plenty more anyway.

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Boeluen

Friday, September 14, 2007 10:18 AM

Great remarks David! You sure know your stuff - but then again that’s what makes you our online expert.

I appreciate very much the information you have provided on hoki. I was worried when I had seen it on canteen menus as overfishing seems to be completely out of control. Do you believe that the hoki fisheries will receive their MSC certification again this time round?

I can sympathise with zebra sharks’ dislike of devouring sardines with their heads on - I also prefer that my food not watch me while I eat it!

Thanks again for the insight.

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David

Thursday, September 27, 2007 12:47 AM

I am not very familiar with the practices of the hoki industry so I don’t know if they will still be awarded their MSC certification again. However, I hope they do get awarded again so that we can still offer hoki to our animals.
MSC, for those who don’t know, is the Marine Stewardship Council. They award fisheries that practice sustainable fishing.

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Jess

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 07:10 AM

David, I’d like to second Boeluen’s remarks thanking you for this blog entry—zebras are my absolute favorite shark, and Shark Lagoon at Aquarium of the Pacific was a highlight of my trip out to California last month.

I’ve worked in both Animal Care (that is, the marine mammal department) and Education at a well-known marine park here in Orlando, and I currently teach marine conservation at another large aquarium which, while impressive in its own way, could really benefit from an interactive exhibit like your Shark Lagoon. Showing people first-hand that sharks aren’t “bad guys” and that they can even be petted is such a big step in getting people to care about these amazing animals. To think that beautiful creatures like Yin and Yang are caught and sold as jerky in some parts of the world breaks my heart, and it’s my hope that places like Aquarium of the Pacific will help inspire its visitors to protest and prevent the needless killing of sharks. You guys deserve a big pat on the back!

I’ve read that the Aquarium doesn’t allow linking to outside websites, but, if you do a search for “aquarium of the pacific” on Google’s video site, I’ve uploaded a little twelve-minute clip that features Shark Lagoon pretty heavily. (I happily make a fool of myself in front of the underwater viewing window, making kissing noises and referring to one of the girls as “he”... hello, no claspers! Sheesh, Jess!) There are a couple of minutes from the feeding, so you might be in it.  :)  The title is “Aquarium of the Pacific: October 2007” if you’re curious.

Anyway, keep up the great work, and thanks again for sharing your knowledge and your experience with the rest of us!

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