Posts Tagged 'shark week'

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Shark Week!

This week, our partners over at Discovery Channel are celebrating the 26th anniversary of Shark Week – a seven day program series dedicated to raising awareness and respect for these amazing animals.

Blacktip Reef

Sharks have been roaming our oceans for more than 420 million years and scientists have now identified 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)!

Here at the Aquarium, we’re celebrating sharks all week long with programming available both on-site and online, including:

  • Google+ Hangout – We helped Discovery Channel kick off Shark Week with an underwater hangout featuring experts Holly Bourbon and Heather Doggett AND our brand new Blacktip Reef exhibit!  Four shark enthusiasts, including YouTube star iJustine, were also invited to participate in the hangout. Holly answered their questions and questions submitted from Facebook, Twitter and Google+ fans!
  • Dive Chats – At 12pm EST on August 8th, Holly will be doing another live underwater chat with our Shark Cam viewers! She’ll be answering questions submitted via Twitter using #sharkcam.
  • Shark Cam – Take a 24-7 dive into Blacktip Reef from anywhere in the world via our Shark Cam!
  • Education Talks from Blacktip Reef – Aquarium visitors will learn about Blacktip Reef, the sharks that live there, including the addition of a new species, the zebra shark!

How are you celebrating Shark Week? Tell us in the comments section! 

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


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.

blacktip reef sharks

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!


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!

shark week cam

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!

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!

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 


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. 

A tale of two sand tiger sharks

We’re very excited to welcome two new sand tiger sharks to the Open Ocean exhibit at the National Aquarium, Baltimore.

Where did these sharks come from, and how did they get to the Aquarium? Watch this video to find out:

Whenever possible, the animals in our exhibits are bred right here at the National Aquarium, or at other zoos and aquariums across the country. The National Aquarium has successfully bred many species of cartilaginous fish, including Southern stingrays and cownose rays. Breeding programs reduce the need to collect animals from the wild.

Did you know? The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) maintains a forum where accredited institutions can swap animals—it’s like Craigslist for aquariums!

Breeding programs are not possible for some species, including the sand tiger shark, due to intensive resource requirements and logistical impossibilities.

For this reason, Andy Dehart, director of Fishes & Aquatic Invertebrates for the National Aquarium and renowned shark expert, and his team are leading the way for sustainable shark-collecting practices that put the safety and health of the animals first.

Sharks are collected using a long-line fishing technique that minimizes bycatch, or fish caught unintentionally, and “we modify our fishing hooks, sanding off the barbs, to reduce injury and handling time of the sharks,” says Andy. “We know that line fishing with barbless hooks means we catch less sharks, but that’s a trade off we’re happy to accept,” he continues.

The sharks are transported back to shore in a special shark-sized fish box on the Aquarium’s shark collecting vessel. If a shark is thrashing in the fish box, Dehart and other Aquarium staff will actually get in the box and “hug” the shark to keep it still to prevent any injury.

A big, cold, wet shark hug—now that’s dedication!

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