Archive for the 'Sharks' Category



Thoughtful Thursdays: The Role Sharks Play in Maintaining Healthy Ocean Ecosystems

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Sharks, like almost no other animal on this planet, capture our thoughts and imagination – deservedly so. These animals have been around for hundreds of millions of years and have evolved into almost every shape and size. They can be the size of a bus or the size of your smart phone. They can bear live young or lay eggs in open water. They can feed on the smallest plankton or on whale carcasses. They can spend most of their lives on a relatively small section of the sea floor or migrate more than a thousand miles.

Despite their incredible diversity, most species of sharks have several things in common. They generally take a long time to reach reproductive age and have few offspring and although some species can tolerate fresh water, most live in salt water their entire lives. Most are also apex predators and their numbers are declining in ecologically significant ways. A coral reef ecosystem and the incredibly diverse plant and animal community it supports, is directly impacted by the health and abundance of sharks as apex predators – and vice versa.

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Our new exhibit, Blacktip Reef, represents an entire coral reef ecosystem!

When we talk about the real and urgent threats sharks are facing – overfishing, shark finning, bycatch and habitat destruction, we are inclined to focus on the issues that are less diffuse, and quite frankly, issues where the blame lies with others. All we have to do is fix the bad habits of others and we can save the world.

While bycatch, overfishing and finning are vitally important to address (70-100 million sharks are killed annually due to these problems alone), we can’t forget that we also need to protect the places – like coral reefs – they depend upon to survive. If we want to ensure the health of our marine species, we’ll need to reverse the widespread destruction of vital coral reef, mangrove, grass bed and wetland habitats. These are nursery or feeding grounds for sharks and other species. Protection of habitat is tightly linked to the well-being of the animals we care so much about.

We are losing these habitats at alarming rates and for a variety of reasons. Climate change and ocean acidification are threatening our coral reefs, coastal development and sea level rise are jeopardizing our important mangrove and wetland areas, and sedimentation and destructive fishing practices are killing our underwater grass beds. If we are going to protect sharks and other ocean species, we’ll need to also focus on these issues. But this time, when we look for the person to blame, we need to accept some personal responsibility. We, as individuals and as a society, are responsible for – and have the power to mitigate for climate change, to make sure development happens in responsible ways, to decrease our collective carbon footprints. We need to hold ourselves responsible for our own individual contributions to this problem and we need to hold each other accountable.

The good news is, as we make strides to restore and protect healthy habitats, the lasting effects cascade throughout the ecosystem – creating supportive environments for healthy plant and animal communities. The better news is we can do something today to make a difference! Volunteer with the National Aquarium or other local conservation organization to restore vital aquatic habitats, choose seafood that has been caught in ways that doesn’t harm sharks, or take a step to reduce your carbon footprint. Sharks deserve our help. Join us!

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Blacktip Reef Shark Cam: Watch Our New Exhibit In Action!

Twenty sleek, fast-moving blacktip reef sharks are now happily exploring their new home in Blacktip Reef!

Just as they are a vital element to coral reef ecosystems in nature, these sharks are one of the final and most important pieces of our new exhibit, the most comprehensive re-creation of an Indo-Pacific coral reef in the country.

Can’t make it to Baltimore to see Blacktip Reef in person? You can now virtually step into the exhibit and meet hundreds of aquatic animals by checking out our underwater Blacktip Reef Shark Cam!

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Through a partnership with Discovery Channel and Shark Week, we’re excited to be able to share our exhibit virtually and hope to inspire conservation of these amazing animals AND their equally fragile habitats!

Meet the New Neighbors! Blacktip Reef Sharks Added to Exhibit!

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Twelve blacktip reef sharks were introduced to their new home today!

The transportation and introduction process for these animals is carefully crafted by our Biological Programs team. Each shark is individually introduced by a team of divers into Blacktip Reef. After they feel that the newly introduced shark has begun acclimating to its new surroundings, the next shark is added. The process of introducing all 20 of our blacktip reef sharks will occur over two days.

Blacktips can grow to about 6 feet in length and bear distinctive black tips on their fins. Found in the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific, these sharks are sleek, beautiful and fast-moving and hunt cooperatively in groups.

These sharks are joining our 500-pound green sea turtle, Calypso, and hundreds of tropical fish recently introduced into the exhibit. Over the next few weeks, many other fascinating species – including zebra sharks, wobbegong sharks, a blotched fantail ray, a reticulate whipray and a Napoleon wrasse – will be introduced to Blacktip Reef! Some of these amazing animals were recently featured in this CBS This Morning piece!

Stay tuned for more updates as Blacktip Reef continues to come to life! 

A Blue View: The Unfair Attack on Sharks

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

July 10, 2013: Sharks Unfairly Attacked

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the bad
reputation sharks have gotten over the years. 

Sharks have long captured the imagination of the public. These days, even shark sightings make national news. Just this past June, great white shark sightings in Massachusetts and New Jersey cleared beaches and were widely reported across the country.

Often thought of as mindless, aggressive killers, sharks—and their toothy jaws—are featured prominently in movies and TV shows, always adding drama with a hint of fin visible above the water’s surface. Despite the fascination that we all feel for sharks, these important apex predators remain seriously misunderstood.

Most people think of great whites when they think of sharks, but there are actually more than 375 shark species, ranging in size from the 8-inch dwarf lantern shark to the 65-foot whale shark.

Here are just a few shark species that can be found at the Aquarium:

The vast majority of sharks are carnivores, but exactly what they eat depends on what they can catch. Larger shark species may prefer seals or large fish. Other species may opt for mollusks, clams, squid, and other small marine animals. One thing is certain—humans are not the preferred menu choice—far from it.

Of the hundreds of shark species, only 12 are considered even potentially dangerous to people, with great whites, bull sharks, and tiger sharks responsible for most attacks on humans. In 2012, approximately 80 shark attacks occurred worldwide, with seven fatalities. When one considers how fearful the general public is of sharks, it’s remarkable to learn that as many as 100 million sharks are killed by people each year. The fact is, sharks have far more to fear from humans.

While sharks may be at the top of the food chain, they are susceptible to threats such as shark finning, overfishing and bycatch. As top predators, most shark species produce relatively few offspring and take years to reach reproductive maturity. The whale shark, for example, doesn’t reproduce until the age 30. When killed in great numbers, sharks don’t have the opportunity to reproduce, and the long-term viability of the population is threatened.

So why should we worry about sharks? Let’s start with the fact that they’re absolutely critical to healthy ocean ecosystems. Scientists refer to sharks as a keystone species, meaning that the whole complex food web relies on them. From their perch at its top, sharks keep populations of other fish in check, naturally select out old and sick fish, and control populations so that other prey fish can’t cause an imbalance in the ecosystem. By doing the essential job of population control, sharks actually ensure adequate biodiversity in marine habitats.

Besides regulating the food web, sharks are believed to keep coral reefs, sea grass beds, and other vital habitats healthy. Essentially, sharks regulate the behavior of other species by intimidating them, preventing any one species from over-consuming critical habitat.

Because of the severe population decline of many shark species, several states, Maryland included, have taken steps to protect sharks by prohibiting the sale, trade, and transfer of shark fins, and many conservation organizations are advocating for even greater protection of these ocean-dwellers.

This summer, if you’re fortunate enough to spent time at the ocean, don’t let fear of sharks prevent you from enjoying the water. Be sensible, but not afraid. As you’ve no doubt heard, you face much greater risk driving to the shore than you do from the sharks that live there!

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Animal Updates – June 28

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community, so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Sandbar pup is on exhibit! 

Chloe, a female sandbar shark pup born at the Aquarium just over a month ago, has been moved into our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit.

sandbar shark pup

Chloe behind-the-scenes shortly after her birth.

This species of shark gets its name from their preferred habitat, the sandbars and grassy shallow areas along the Atlantic coast.

Did you know? The Chesapeake Bay is actually one of the most important nursery areas along the East Coast for sandbar sharks!

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!


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