Archive for the 'Sharks' Category



Why We’re Thankful for SHARKS!

Our blue planet has been inhabited by sharks for more than 420 million years. We now have close to 500 different species of sharks ranging in size from the dwarf lanternshark (only about 6 inches in length) to the whale shark (the largest fish in the world)!

Although they have become the subject of the international phenomenon otherwise known as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (which boasted an average of 27 million viewers last year), there is still so much to learn about these amazing creatures.

wobbegong shark

The very interesting tasselled wobbegong shark – coming to our new Blacktip Reef exhibit in summer 2013!

In honor of our mission to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures, we hope to educate our visitors and community about the misconceptions surrounding these amazing animals.

To get to know more about our sharks, we sat down with one of our shark caretakers, Alan Henningsen:

National Aquarium: How long have you been working with sharks? 

Alan Henningsen: I’ve been working alongside sharks for 32 years.

NA: What is your favorite shark species? 

AH: It’s hard to say! My favorite animal is by far the sawfish, which is actually a species of ray.

A sand tiger shark cruises slowly above sawfish in our Shark Alley exhibit.

I have worked with lemon sharks a lot over the years. Actually, the sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks are my favorite.

The sand tiger sharks get up close and personal with visitors in our Shark Alley exhibit.

NA: What are your daily duties caring for the National Aquarium sharks? 

AH: My day-to-day duties include observing and recording behavior, maintaining the exhibit (e.g. lighting and cleaning), preparing food and feedings.

NA: How many sharks do you care for? 

AH: In our Shark Alley exhibit, I am currently caring for 10 large sharks (5 sand tiger, 2 sandbar and 3 nurse sharks), and 3 rays (2 freshwater sawfish and 1 roughtail ray).

NA: What’s your favorite fun fact about sharks? 

AH: That’s another tough one! I think the diverse way in which sharks reproduce is fascinating. From internal fertilization to asexual conception, sharks display a diverse array of reproduction cycles.

Want to get up close and personal with our amazing sharks and rays to learn even more about these species? Lucky for you, we are hosting a Shark Sleepover on Friday, November 23. Bring the out-of-town family too (we can almost guarantee it will make you the coolest member of your family).

What species of animal are YOU most thankful for this year? Tell us in the comments section below!

Blacktip Reef Update: Construction

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, as well as the acquisition of new animals, we’ll have a lot to update you on leading up to next summer. As we continue to build the future home of Blacktip Reef, stay tuned to learn about new changes here on our WATERblog!

The past few months have been extremely busy for teams all over the Aquarium! Now that Wings in the Water  has been drained, we have transitioned into full-force construction of our new exhibit space and necessary upgrades of our life-support unit.

The exhibit space has now been drained and prepped for construction!

To protect our guests and animals from noise, odors and dust associated with construction, we’ve built a lid and temporary walls to cover the entire construction area.

This lid separates our visitors and animals from the work happening down below.

Demolition of parts of the tank have been completed, including the uncovering of the deep dive area that will give guests the opportunity to see more of the new reef. This area mimics reefs in the wild that often have deep pockets, where animals can explore and make their new home!

We’ve removed all of our old acrylic windows from the exhibit space. The construction team is now focused on preparing that area to house our new floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window that will give guests the opportunity to step inside the exhibit and come face-to-face with the animals!

An artistic rendering of the floor-to-ceiling pop-out window!

Watch this video to learn more about our recent changes: 

Stay tuned for more Blacktip Reef updates! 

Animal Update – September 7

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!

Animal transports completed in preparation for Blacktip Reef! 

All of our animals have been moved from Wings in the Water so that renovations can begin on the exhibit space! A tarpon and hogfish were moved to their new home within the Aquarium, the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit. On Monday, our team moved Zeke, Zoe and Calypso to their temporary home behind-the-scenes in our animal care facility.

Calypso getting ready for the big move on Monday!

Additionallythe lionfish habitat next to Wings in the Water was permanently broken down. Our lionfish were given to the Newport Aquarium in Kentucky. The Sargassum triggerfish, queen angelfish, spotfin butterflyfish and blue tang from this tank can also now be seen in our Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit. 

A staff member carefully cleaning out the lionfish reef tank

For more on our changes in preparation for Blacktip Reef, check out our recent update!

New additions in Maryland: Mountains to the Sea exhibit 

Black sea bass, black drum and winter flounder fish have been added to our Atlantic Shelf gallery.

Stop by our Atlantic Shelf tank to get a good look at our new black sea bass!

We have a new baby! 

We are so proud to welcome a new addition to the Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit – a Linne’s two-toed sloth was born in late August! The baby is the first born to Ivy, one of the four sloths in the exhibit, and is the third sloth born at National Aquarium.

Can you spot the baby sloth? Ivy and her new infant are free roaming the Rain Forest exhibit and will be particularly good at hiding in the trees for at least a few weeks.

To find out more about our newest addition, click here.

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

Blacktip Reef Update: Animal Transports

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, as well as the acquisition of new animals, we’ll have a lot to update you on leading up to next summer. As we continue to build the future home of Blacktip Reef, stay tuned to learn about new changes here on our WATERblog!

The past few weeks have been extremely busy for teams all over the Aquarium! Our Animal Care staff worked diligently to move and relocate all the animals that had lived in the Wings in the Water exhibit. Some of these animals moved to new homes within the Aquarium, and some joined new families at Georgia Aquarium and Ripley’s Aquarium.

National Aquarium staff worked speedily to move animals. Photo courtesy of John Soule

Three of our guest favorites, Calypso, Zeke, and Zoe, made one of the last moves from the exhibit this week.

National Aquarium divers eased Calypso into a large lift with tasty fish treats. Photo courtesy of John Soule

But they haven’t traveled far! The temporary home for these animals is in one of our behind-the-scenes animal care areas, where they will be enjoying a little “vacation” with some of their other fish friends.

It takes a big team to move a big turtle like Calypso!

Now that the animals have been removed and the water has been drained, some of the bigger construction components have begun. You can see some of our team building scaffolding to prepare for even more.

Watch this video to learn more about our recent changes: 

Stay tuned for more Blacktip Reef updates! 

Built for Speed: How Our Fastest Fish Friends Keep Their Pace

Whether it’s racing down Pratt Street or pulsing through the open ocean on the hunt for dinner, reaching maximum speed is all about physics. Above ground, vehicles have an initial thrust from the motor to propel them forward. To build speed, the exterior of cars are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible, meaning they minimize drag and friction to not overexert the engine.

Although the Indy Cars expected at the Grand Prix of Baltimore this weekend can reach speeds of up to 230 mph, they are no match for jet engines! It’s hard to believe that all that weight and metal can soar through the air at speeds exceeding 2,000 mph. Getting a jet off the ground involves three major factors: (1) the engine provides thrust; (2) the wings provide lift to counter gravity; and (3) the aerodynamic shape cuts friction and drag.

These principles also apply to sharks and our other fast fish friends that live in the open ocean. The caudal (tail) fin provides initial thrust by swaying back and forth, pushing the water and propelling the animals forward. Like the wings of an airplane, the pectoral (side) fins give the animals the needed lift to keep them moving and counter gravity. And their smooth, streamlined bodies reduce as much friction and drag as possible!

One of our sand tiger sharks showing off its streamlined body

Sand tiger sharks are built for continuous swimming. They feed primarily on fish and need to be able to move quickly. Their big caudal fins help push them forward through the water all day without exhausting their energy. Their horizontal pectoral fins give the sharks the perfect shape to lift and stay above the ocean bottom. The pectoral fins are also critical to helping them get water over their gills so they can breathe. Unlike fish species, sharks don’t have swim bladders to keep them afloat, so it takes a lot more work to fight the drag of water molecules!

A sand tiger shark stays afloat thanks to its large pectoral (side) fins

Over time, humans have adapted to swim, and in the case of Olympian Michael Phelps, pretty quickly, but we are in no way built for it. We don’t have webbed feet, fins, or a streamlined body made for the water. Phelps, who holds the fastest swimming speed record, maxes out at just under 5 mph. Sharks, on the other hand, can hurdle toward prey at recorded swimming speeds of up to 46 mph!

Sink your teeth into our JAWsome Shark Week giveaway!

To celebrate the end of another fintastic Shark Week, we are hosting a JAWsome Shark Giveaway on Facebook and Twitter! 

You could win a sand tiger or sandbar shark tooth!

The overall number of teeth each shark has depends on diet and species. Some sharks can have as few as 10 rows of teeth, and others as many as 300! All of our sharks are constantly shedding their teeth. In general, sharks can lose anywhere from one tooth a day to one tooth every 28 days. The rows of teeth replenish themselves sort of like a vending machine—when one falls out, the one behind it shifts forward.

The teeth we are giving away belonged to the sandbar shark and sand tiger shark species that live in our Open Ocean exhibit. Enter our JAWsome contest and you could win one of your very own!

One of our sand tiger sharks with a loose tooth

Sand tiger sharks, found in the coastal waters of North America, Japan, Australia, and South Africa, can have up to 56 rows of teeth in each jaw. On average, they lose their teeth every two to three days. Their teeth are long and jagged to help them chomp on their typical diet of bony fish, small sharks, rays, and crustaceans.

Sandbar sharks usually have about 14 rows of teeth in each jaw and shed their teeth about every 10 days. The look of their teeth is more typical of what you may have seen before, flat and triangular. Commonly found in the lower Chesapeake Bay, sandbar sharks are opportunistic bottom-feeders that prey on bony fish, mollusks, crabs, and shrimp.

Here’s how to enter: 

1) a. Like the National Aquarium on Facebook
     b.  Like/comment on our shark tooth Facebook post 

AND/OR

2) a. Follow @NatlAquarium on Twitter
      b. Tweet us the name of your favorite shark to @NatlAquarium and include the hashtag #JAWsome

Contest closes at 4:00 p.m. ET on Friday, August 17, 2012. Ten random Twitter winners and 10 random Facebook winners will be announced at approximately 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday, August 17, 2012. Entrants must live in the continental United States to win.

Love sharks? Click here to learn about ways you can support shark conservation!

Thoughtful Thursday: Save our finned friends!

If you love sharks, like us, you most likely have a case of Shark Week fever! Sharks have been swimming in the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years (since before the dinosaurs).

Although Discovery Channel’s annual event has become a cultural phenomenon, spawning sales of fin headbands and shark costumes for pets, this special week also brings the important issue of shark conservation to the forefront of people’s minds. These beautiful and amazing creatures might be scary to some, but their numbers are dwindling at an even scarier rate. As many as one-third of shark species are headed for extinction if we don’t act now.

In the 31 years the National Aquarium, Baltimore, has been open, sharks have gone from a commercial fishery the federal government declared underutilized to the brink of extinction. In that time, hammerhead shark populations in the Atlantic have decreased by nearly 93%. Since 1986, all recorded shark populations in the northwestern Atlantic, with the exception of mako sharks, have declined by more than 50%.

Scientists warn that continual overfishing of sharks has decimated the population, which cannot sustain the current rates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species estimates that 30% of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.

Below are just a few easy ways you can support our finned friends:

Join the Shark Week Facebook, Twitter Campaign
Show your support and join the Shark Week thunderclap. Through this online platform, shark fans can lend their voice to the cause and spread the word about protecting sharks from extinction.

Protest Shark Fin Soup
Every year, fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, non-nutritional meal. Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction. Research shows that the massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout the ocean’s ecosystems. Locally, the depletion of sandbar sharks has caused an increase in cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay, which threatens the oyster industry. You can help by signing the Humane Society’s No Shark Fin Pledge.

Petition to List Great White Sharks Under the Endangered Species Act 
Great white sharks are disappearing. Help U.S. West Coast great whites get the protection they need by signing the Oceana petition.

Participate in a Shark Tagging Trip
Come aboard a National Aquarium shark tagging trip! Tagging sharks provides scientists with information on stock identity, migration and abundance, age and growth, mortality, and behavior. Although our 2012 trips are sold out, we encourage you to sign up for a 2013 trip! Next year’s dates will be announced in spring 2013. 


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