January 27, 2015
On January 27 the Aquarium’s shark team moved two female zebra shark pups born via artificial insemination from the behind-the-scenes shark nursery to their new home in Shark Lagoon. The Aquarium of the Pacific is the first to be able to successfully reproduce zebra sharks through artificial insemination. Fern, a twenty-year-old zebra shark who has lived at the Aquarium since 1997, is the mother of the two ten-month-old shark pups.
Update: Early this spring one of the zebra shark pups was delivered to another Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) institution as part of the Aquarium’s involvement in AZA’s Species Survival Plan for zebra sharks. The other pup remains in the Shark Lagoon touch pool.
Fern was inseminated in September 2013, and the pups hatched from their eggs in late March of 2014. Successful births from artificial insemination can further research in helping dwindling shark populations in the wild.
This video shows the process of moving the sharks from behind the scenes to Shark Lagoon:
The zebra shark pups are now about 2.5 to 3 feet long. Their 140-pound and 7.5-foot long mother Fern can be seen swimming in the Aquarium’s Shark Lagoon exhibit with other large sharks. Aquarium experts have been working with Fern, who is trained to come to the surface for food as well as to voluntarily participate in her own medical exams.
Zebra sharks, often called leopard sharks in Australia, are found in the Indo-West Pacific. This includes the Red Sea, East Africa, New Caledonia, Japan, Australia, and Tonga. This species of shark prefers inshore marine or brackish water. They grow to be 5.5 to 11.5 feet in length and are 9 feet long on average. These sharks are nocturnal foragers, feeding on snails and bivalves, crabs, shrimp, and small bony fishes.
Young juveniles are dark brown or black with narrow pale yellow or white vertical bars resembling a zebra’s stripes. When they begin to develop their adult features, the juvenile shark’s bars fade, becoming dots or open circular designs no longer resembling a zebra. These sharks reach maturity when they are about 5 to 6 feet in length. Pups normally hatch in about five and half to six and a half months and are only about 7.9 to 10 inches when they emerge from their egg cases. Once hatched, they are immediately independent, able to swim and hunt on their own.
Zebra sharks can live about twenty-five to thirty years, but face many threats in the wild. This species is listed as vulnerable to extinction under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List mainly because of human activities. Overfishing poses a big threat, as these sharks are sold for human consumption or fish meal. Livers are processed for vitamins, and there is a large market for their fins. In Australia, where zebra sharks are not a target species for fishing, their population for that region is listed under IUCN Red’s List as Least Concern.