Archive for the 'Sharks' Category



Sawfish Granted Endangered Species Protection

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Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Services granted sawfish protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

largetooth sawfish

Sawfish are one of the most, if not the most, imperiled groups of cartilaginous fish. Like most sharks and rays,  late maturity and low reproduction rates make these animals vulnerable to over-exploitation. Additionally, their toothed “saw” often gets caught in fishing gear and nets, making them susceptible to bycatch. As a result of these threats, populations of sawfish have reportedly declined by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.

All seven recognized species of sawfish are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  Nationally however, earlier petitions to grant sawfish similar protection under the ESA have not been successful. The first listing, of the smalltooth sawfish, occured in April of 2003. The largetooth sawfish was listed under the ESA in August of 2011. With the freshwater and largetooth species recently being synonymized, all are now protected under the ESA, including the two living here at the Aquarium.

largetooth sawfish

One of the largetooth sawfish that live in our Shark Alley exhibit.

The designation to list all species of sawfish is a positive step forward for these animals. The hope is that through collaboration with other aquariums, research biologists, conservation groups and NGOs we can assist in the recovery of sawfish populations worldwide.

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Blacktip Reef Featured on “The List!”

The animals for our newest exhibit, Blacktip Reef, were featured on yesterday’s edition of national news program, The ListClick below to watch the clip: 

National Aquarium on The List

The hundreds of animals that will call Blacktip Reef  home have been living at our Animal Care Center for the past year. Since their arrival in Baltimore, staff members like Senior Aquarist Ashleigh Clews have been working with these animals to acclimate them to a variety of new experiences like interacting with divers!

From the new and fascinating blacktip reef sharks to Aquarium favorites like 500+ pound green sea turtle, Calypso, the inhabitants of this vibrant Indo-Pacific reef (opening July 10th) are sure to delight our guests. 

For more behind-the-scenes Blacktip Reef updates, click here

Great White Shark Spotted Off New Jersey Coast

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Last week, reports surfaced that a 16-foot-long great white shark was spotted off the coast of New Jersey, near Atlantic City. While the sighting caused a good deal of commotion, great whites are actually spotted on occasion in our area.

great white shark

The great white spotted off the NJ coast. Photo: Rob Pompilio

Additionally, species like the smooth and spiny dogfish, sandbar sharks and sand tiger sharks are also found in our area. In the summer months, tiger, dusky, common threshers, shortfin makos and blue sharks will also frequent the deeper waters in our area.

It’s important to note that shark attacks are rare. Sharks are not the “man-eating machines” they are often perceived to be. In fact, species like the great white far prefer seals and other marine mammals as their choice meal. Shark incidents usually occur if the animal mistakes a human for prey.

To avoid any confusion with these animals, here are some important safety tips for beach-goers this summer: 

  • Don’t swim alone.
  • Don’t swim at dawn or dusk.
  • Avoid areas where seals live.
  • Don’t swim in areas where you see active bait (small fish) near shore.

In reality, sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them. Over 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year. Did you know great white sharks are a federally protected species? From bycatch (when animals are caught unintentionally) to shark finning (the practice of slicing off the fins of a live shark and then discarding the animal at sea), even the largest predatory fish on Earth is not immune to human-related threats.

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Blacktip Reef Update: One Month Left To Go!

We cannot wait for our new exhibit, Blacktip Reef, to open in summer of 2013! This coral-filled exhibit, replicating an Indo-Pacific ocean habitat, will feature 15 exciting species including blacktip reef sharks, reticulated whiptail rays and ornate wobbegong sharks. It will also be the new home for some of our most beloved animals, including our 400-pound green sea turtle Calypso and zebra sharks Zeke and Zoe. Guests will be able to experience this lively reef from many vantage points, including a new floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window that allows you to virtually step inside the exhibit.

It’s a long journey to opening day. Between animal transports, exhibit demolition, new construction and habitat fabrication, there are a lot of updates as we get closer to this summer. As we continue to build the future home of Blacktip Reef, get the latest on what’s new right here on our WATERblog!

It has been a very busy couple of months for our biological programs and exhibit teams as we continue to bring together all of the elements of our Blacktip Reef exhibit! Since our last video update, all of the coral pieces have been hand-installed into the exhibit. These coral pieces have each been carefully crafted to represent coral found in Indo-Pacific reefs. For more on how we created these pieces, check out “Aquarium Sculptors Create Coral For Conservation Awareness” – a piece that recently-aired on NPR’s All Things Considered.

blacktip reef coral installation

The design of our reef is truly unique in that it incorporates many micro-habitat areas that can be commonly found in wild reef ecosystems. These micro-habitats will be important homes for our smaller species of fish, which will naturally be looking for protection from larger fish and our blacktip reef sharks.

This wider shot depicts a greater portion of the reef, before water was added to the exhibit.

The deep dive portion of Blacktip Reef, before water was added to the exhibit.

In the last few weeks, salt water has been added to the exhibit space and the lid that was previously covering the construction area has been removed. Guests visiting the Aquarium can now get a sneak peek of Blacktip Reef and see our crews at work!

blacktip reef national aquarium

An aerial view of Blacktip Reef after the removal of the construction lid.

Divers are currently taking their first dips into the exhibit, familiarizing themselves with the space as well as checking our life-support and other critical systems for proper function. At the end of this month, our biological programs staff will begin introducing our animals into their new home, starting with the one and only Calypso (our 500+ pound green sea turtle)!

Calypso is enjoying plenty of brussel sprouts behind-the-scenes, but can't wait to explore her new home!

Calypso is enjoying plenty of brussel sprouts behind-the-scenes, but can’t wait to explore her new home!

Stay tuned for more updates on animal introductions and don’t forget to check out Blacktip Reef when it opens July 10th! 

Sandbar Shark Pup Born at National Aquarium!

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We have some exciting news coming from the National Aquarium fishes department – a female sandbar shark pup was recently born to the two adult sandbars in our Shark Alley: Atlantic Predators exhibit!

sandbar shark pup

This is the first pup our female sandbar has had since coming to the Aquarium in 2003!

After the birth was initially observed by staff, the pup was moved behind-the-scenes for immediate veterinary care and further observation.

Baby shark during transport to behind-the-scenes area.

Baby shark during transport to behind-the-scenes area.

Did you know the majority of shark species (including sandbars) give birth to live young?

Female sandbars are known to have a range of 1 to 14 pups throughout their lifetime. This species reaches sexual maturity at around 16 years of age (or later) and their average gestational period is about 12 months. Females also have what’s known as a “biennial reproductive cycle,” meaning they reproduce every other year.

At this time, our Animal Care and Animal Health teams are working closely to monitor the baby shark’s health and eating patterns. We hope to increase the pup’s overall intake in the next few weeks. Currently, the shark pup only weighs about 4.6 pounds and is only 26 inches in length! Adult sandbar sharks can weigh up to 200 pounds and reach up to 7.5 feet in length.

While the birth of this shark pup is very exciting, we are cautiously optimistic as shark pups have a low survival rate. Our priority is to give the animal the best care possible and consult with partner institutions that have successfully reproduced this species.

Stay tuned for more updates on our shark pup! 

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