the mating season, a male shark will approach a female and
begin to engage in what researchers call “ritualized
swimming.” This means that the shark will begin to swim
in a repetitive pattern.
The male shark will approach the female, bite and hold her
pectoral fin to help secure the union. (Pectoral fins are
those located in the center of the underside of a shark’s
body.) The male will then attempt to try to turn the female
on her side and insert one of his claspers into her cloaca.
Female sharks usually bear the tell-tale bite marks of the
The Secret Reef exhibit at the Tennessee Aquarium is home
to male and female sand tiger and sandbar sharks. “We
would certainly like to have our sharks breed in this exhibit,”
said Thom Demas, Tennessee Aquarium curator of fishes.
Demas also explained that while female sharks may exhibit
bite marks as a result of breeding behavior, the wounds are
quite superficial and heal quickly.
For a really big look at sharks, visitors can cross the street
and check out “Sharks 3D” at the Tennessee Aquarium
IMAX Theater. The film gives viewers a front-row seat to feeding
frenzies, breeding behaviors and an encounter with a great
Viewers will witness sharks as they really are – not
wicked man-eating creatures, but wild, fascinating and highly
Being Mr. Mom
For seahorses, courtship results in a pregnant male. That’s
right; it is the male seahorses that carry the babies.
It all begins with a slow, dance-like promenade through the
sea grass. The male, head bowed, performs an elaborate dance
around the female, often wrapping his tail around her or mimicking
her movements. The male often changes color, his body becoming
lighter while his spine area darkens. During this mysterious
mating dance, the male opens his empty pouch to the female.
The female then raises her head and intertwines her tail with
“The ritual can last up to nine hours and resembles
a sort of ballet,” Demas said. “The seahorse pair
travels up the water column as she transfers eggs to the male
seahorse’s pouch on his abdomen, where he fertilizes
the eggs and goes through the pregnancy.”
Most seahorse pairs are monogamous – once a male and
female form a pair bond, they mate exclusively during the
Courtship in the swamp
It’s not Valentine’s Day that gets the Aquarium’s
creatures cruising on the love boat. Changes in temperature
and light cycles, along with some deeply ingrained instincts,
can trigger an upsurge in courtship rituals.
Some of the most interesting courtship rituals take place
in the Aquarium’s Mississippi Delta Country, home to
many freshwater turtles. Admittedly, turtles may not be the
first animals many associate with romance, but they’ve
survived thousands of years, so they must be doing something
Male red ear sliders and southern painted turtles go to great
lengths to express their intent. With Edward Scissorshands-like
appendages, the persistent male swims in front of or just
above the female and waves his long nails in her face.
The male map turtle is a little subtler in his display.
With a head bobbing routine, at varying speeds and occasionally
with a little cheek-to-cheek caressing, he turns the head
of an interested female.
As with many reptiles, the temperature of the turtle’s
nest determines the sex of the hatchlings; lower temperatures
produce males and higher temperatures produce females.
It takes a sharp and patient eye and good timing to see the
Aquarium’s courtship displays. Some species may court
for an hour or two in the morning, and then spend the rest
of the afternoon searching for food, basking on a log or just
Bring your sweetie to the Aquarium to get a glimpse of love,
aquarium style and take advantage of our “Finny Valentine”
up for the Tennessee Aquarium e-newsletter and print out
the Finny Valentine coupon. The coupon qualifies participants
for adult admission for two to the Aquarium for only $30.
Add an IMAX movie for only $5 more per adult.