What kinds of sharks live in the Secret Reef habitat?
Two shark species live in the Secret Reef: Sand Tiger Sharks and Sandbar Sharks. We currently have four Sand Tigers and two Sandbars. Both species exhibit the typical grey or brownish coloring and body style that people associate with sharks.
Sand Tigers are the toothier of the two species with a row of jagged teeth that you can see even when their mouths are closed. A Sand Tiger can lose thousands of teeth over a lifetime and each time one is lost, another takes its place.
Sandbars, also known as Brown Sharks, swim much faster and are more agile than the Sand Tiger Sharks. They are ram ventilators, which means that they must constantly swim to move water across their gills.
How big are the sharks in the Secret Reef?
Sand Tiger Sharks can grow to up to 10 feet in length while Sandbars can reach a length of 8 feet.
Where are these sharks found in the wild?
Sand Tigers are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Argentina, as well as the Atlantic Coast of Europe to North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea, while Sandbar Sharks are found more broadly in subtropical oceans worldwide including the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia.
How do you feed them?
Aquarium experts have target-trained our sharks to eat fish, offered at the end of a long pole, which is lowered into the top of the exhibit. Both shark species are offered food three times a week. Our team typically offers mackerel or bonita which is fortified with a nutritionally complete supplement. (Sort of like a multi-vitamin that people take to ensure proper nutrition.)
Feeding sharks often takes a lot of patience. While they are often portrayed as eating machines, sharks can go for extended periods of time between meals in the wild. Even the Aquarium’s sharks, which receive easy meals on a routine basis, do not always take what they are offered.
Aquarist Jake Steventon does a FIN-tastic job explaining the feeding process in this video:
How do you keep them from eating other fish?
The amount of food offered to our sharks is closely monitored and recorded to make sure each individual shark is fed enough to keep them satiated. This decreases the chance of the sharks making a meal of their tank mates. Our experts have found that feeding each shark around 5% of their body weight per week helps keep them satisfied without leading to unhealthy weight gain.
Are the sharks the “scariest” fish in the tank?
While a ten-foot, toothy shark lurking nearby might seem like the most fearsome thing our dive team encounters in the Secret Reef, another, much smaller fish actually takes that honor. Sergeant Majors, about nine inches in size, have been known to nip at divers who swim to close to their nests. This fish is actually one of the reasons divers wear protective hoods and gloves in the tank.
Both Sand Tiger and Sandbar Sharks pose very little danger to humans. And in the wild, humans are a much greater threat to sharks. We love how this infographic displays the dangers of shark attacks versus the human impact on shark populations. (Graphic by Joe Chernov and Ripetundi.)
Are these sharks endangered?
Due to shark finning and overfishing, shark populations worldwide are declining. Sand Tiger Shark populations have declined by more than 20 percent in the last 10 years and they are listed as a vulnerable species in the Atlantic Ocean. As with most sharks, Sandbar Sharks have very low reproductive rates and are vulnerable to population decline if overfished.
How long do these sharks live?
According to IUCN figures, the median life expectancy for Sand Tigers is 30-35 years while Sandbars are believed to live a little longer at 35-41 years. Our oldest Sand Tiger Shark is estimated to be at least 30 years old!
Are these the only sharks at the Aquarium?
While Sand Tigers and Sandbar Sharks are the only shark species in the Secret Reef, more sharks can be seen (and touched) in the Aquarium’s Tropical Cove. There are currently four different shark species in the Stingray Bay touch tank: Epaulette Sharks, Coral Catsharks and most recently Horn Sharks. Some of these sharks have produced young right here at the Aquarium. (Like the baby Epaulette Shark below.)
What's it like to SCUBA dive with sharks?
Because shark populations are declining rapidly in the wild, most of our divers consider it a privilege to be in the water with so many sharks. It’s very possible to do a lot of diving in the ocean before you ever see a shark, except in a few very special protected places like marine sanctuaries.
You can dive below the surface of the Secret Reef tank with this underwater video filmed by one of our volunteer divers: