Posts Tagged 'Sharks'



New ‘Walking’ Shark Species Discovered in Indonesia!

A new species of epaulette (carpet) shark was recently discovered off the coast of an island in Indonesia!

New species of epaulette shark. Photo via Conservation International.

New species of epaulette shark. Photo via Conservation International.

The walking shark, Hemiscyllium halamhera, was first seen walking along the sea floor by divers in 2008. Only recently has it been officially recognized as a new species.

This is the third walking shark species found in Indonesia in the past six years! Walking sharks use their fins to navigate along the sea floor in search of small fish and crustaceans. Watch a walking shark do its thing: 

[youtube http://youtu.be/HXEfud1c-do]

Although new species are discovered almost daily, this finding has given the conservation community new hope for the future of Indonesia’s elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). The local government and emerging dive tourism industry are excited by this discovery and have taken precautions to protect these sharks!

There are nine known species of walking shark in the world, all of which inhabit the shallow waters of very restricted ranges.

Got a question about this new discovery for our experts? Ask them in the comments section! 

Thoughtful Thursday: 2013 Shark Tagging Re-cap

Blog-Header-ConservationExp

Every August, the National Aquarium invites our members and the general public to join us on shark research trips We work with Captain Mark Sampson to collect data from several species of sharks off of our Maryland coastline for a variety of ongoing research projects. Trip participants actively engage in catching the sharks, reeling them in, measuring them once on the boat, and tagging and releasing them. It’s a once-in-a lifetime experience that provides valuable species and population data for several researchers around the country and exciting educational experiences for participants.

Captain Sampson works with several researchers to study the migratory patterns, growth rates, population data and species data of the sharks he catches. Every shark that is brought on board is measured and its sex determined. The data and location is noted and a small piece of dorsal fin is clipped and preserved for DNA analysis. Each shark is also given in injection of oxytetracycline, an antibiotic that stains the vertebrae and provides a baseline for growth data if the shark is ever recaptured. Finally, if the shark is big enough, it is tagged.

This tagging is part of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Cooperative Shark Tagging Program. This program, started in 1962 was developed to provide information on the life histories and migratory patterns of Atlantic sharks. According to NMFS, between 1962-2010, over 221,000 sharks of 52 species have been tagged and more than 13,000 sharks of 33 species have been recaptured. Distances traveled for the 33 species ranged from no movement to 3,997 nautical miles (nm) (blue shark). The longest time at liberty for any shark in the program is 27.8 years (sandbar shark).

Our team took eight trips with Captain Sampson in August and caught 48 sharks total! The species tagged included sandbar, dusky, spinner, Atlantic sharpnose and smooth dogfish.

It’s obvious to anyone that steps aboard his vessel that Captain Sampson has a great respect for these animals and is passionate about conserving shark populations through research and education! If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, check back with us next Spring for our 2014 shark tagging trip dates.

In the meantime, there are several things you can do right now to protect the sharks off our coast and worldwide. Please make sure you are choosing seafood that caught without harming sharks and do your part to help keep our oceans clean.

Hope to see you on the boat next August!

Blog-Header-LauraBankey

A Blue View: Surprising 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.

August 28, 2013: Surprising Sharks

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John and aquarist Jackie Cooper
discuss the hundreds of species of lesser-known
sharks that inhabit our oceans! 

John Racanelli: In your mind’s eye, picture a shark for a moment. Perhaps it’s 9 or 10 feet long, with a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth and a menacing look. Now, take that mental image…and forget it. Today, we’re going to talk about the sharks that people seldom consider, the hundreds of species of smaller shark that inhabit every ocean on our planet. With me today is Jackie Cooper, our Senior Assistant Dive Safety Officer Aquarist at the National Aquarium. Thanks for joining me, Jackie!

Jackie Cooper: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about something I’m so passionate about.

JR: How are these smaller species of shark like their larger counterparts?

JC: Well, all sharks are cartilaginous fish; they’re all carnivores; all sharks have 5 to 7 gill slits on the sides of their heads; all sharks have pectoral fins that are not fused to their heads. But that’s about where their similarities end. There is such a broad diversity of body shape and body size of sharks that is just amazing!

JR: What sizes are we talking about? 

JC: Well, the smallest shark is the dwarf lantern shark, which is only about 7.5 inches long. From there, they range up to the whale shark, which can be as large as 40 to 60 feet.

JR: So with these smaller sharks, it sounds like they really average to be relatively small compared to even humans. 

JC: Probably half of all the known shark species are 5.5 feet or smaller, and of that, half of the overall shark species numbers are shorter than 3 feet.

JR: Tell me a little bit more about those smaller sharks and their role in the food chain.

JC: We tend to think of sharks as apex predators, being at the top of the food chain. But in fact, most of these sharks are a part of the food chain. They’re similarly important, but they don’t sit at the top of it. Another thing that people tend to forget is that people eat shark meat much more than you would consider.

We tend to think of sharks as only being consumed in shark fin soup, but if you’re in Europe and you’ve had fish and chips, it’s more than likely you were really eating a shark called the spiny dogfish. They grow to be 3.5 to 4 feet long. The females don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re about 21 years old and produce only small litters. And yet, this species is fished commercially and sold as “fish and chips.” It’s simply devastating to that population.

JR: I know that’s an important species along the Mid-Atlantic shoreline, too. Can you even find some of these species of shark being sold as food in places like Baltimore? 

JC: Certainly. There are definitely grocery stores in the Baltimore metro area that sell shark. Sometimes under names that we would not necessarily recognize as shark.

JR: Why do you think it’s important to understand these smaller species of shark? 

JC: I think the most important reason is that they’re also being threatened. It’s important to keep in mind that when you think about conservation, it’s often driven by money and the glamour, and big species of shark are very exciting to think about and talk about and look at pictures of. These smaller sharks frequently aren’t as glamorous and don’t tend to draw the same kind of funding, so they’ve been much less studied.

JR: Well, I know they contribute to healthy marine ecosystems, too. They’re obviously vital to our ocean habitats, right? 

JC: Every spot in the food chain is critical to maintaining the entire chain in a healthy manner.

JR: Jackie, I want to thank you very much for coming in to talk to us. To learn more about some of the smaller species of shark that inhabit our waters and to see a live cam of the new Blacktip Reef exhibit, visit aqua.org/ablueview.

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli

Blacktip Reef Sharks: Built for Speed

Blog-Header-AnimalExpertUpd

As some of the newest residents here at the Aquarium, our 20 blacktip reef sharks have become a topic of fascination for both our guests and our staff.

To gear you up for the Grand Prix of Baltimore this week, we’re taking a closer look at how these sharks and our other fast fish friends are built for maximum speed!

blacktip reef shark

The bulk of a shark’s speed comes from the caudal (tail) fin, which provides it initial thrust by swaying back and forth, pushing water and propelling the shark forward.

The pectoral (side) fins provided the lift need for the shark to continue moving at a steady pace and counter gravity.

Finally, the blacktip reef shark’s iconically-tipped fin helps the animal steer itself. Together with the pectoral fins, it also help provide the animal stability!

In addition to its physical build, the skin of a shark helps streamline the animal’s movement and augment it’s speed through the water! Dermal denticles, backward facing, tiny tooth-like scales that cover a shark’s body, actually help them swim faster and more efficiently by reducing water resistance.

Watch our blacktip reef sharks in-action on our live Shark Cam

Blog-Header-HollyBourbon

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! 

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

Blog-Header---Blacktip

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!

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli


Sign up for AquaMail

Like us on Facebook!

Twitter Updates