Sharks may instill fear into the minds of many; however, much like many misunderstood animals it is our job to separate myth from fact. The Greater Cleveland Aquarium is home to four different species of sharks, and our main shark exhibit holds 250,000-gallons of water. Walking through this exhibit is as close to swimming with sharks you can get – without getting wet. Get ready to dive into the world of our Senior Aquarist, Ray Popik, as he discusses exactly how we care for the sharks.
On average sharks tend to have a long lifespan, so it is important to take that into account when choosing a space for their exhibit and desired species. “Appropriate considerations need to be made in choosing the animals for the exhibit or designing a space for a specific type of shark,” says Popik. Different sharks require a range of water temperatures, based on where they are found in the wild, but the water in our exhibits stay between 74F and 76F. Not only do the sharks need a large space to occupy, but appropriate filtration systems should be acquired to keep the displays clean.
When the divers are in the shark exhibits they perform routine maintenance to ensure a safe and clean environment for the animals. The divers also tend to have a playful silly side and often interact with the guests. “These interactions can be anything from just waving and taking photos with guests, to helping out with marriage proposals, wishing happy birthday to people, and during our winter holiday season helping Santa to scuba dive and visit the fish.”
Since the divers are in the exhibits about twice a day, the animals are quite familiar with them being there. Popik states, “To the sharks and fish in our exhibits we are really a large, loud, uncoordinated, slow fish; and most of them just ignore us.” The animals tend to be more indifferent while the divers are in the water and because the sharks have a regular swimming pattern, they try to be on the opposite side while in the exhibit.
The sharks do not pay much attention to the divers, but since they are wild animals, as Popik notes, there are occasional negative interactions with the other fish in the exhibit. “Most sharks are also inherently lazy and opportunistic feeders, so they tend to learn that the free meal on a stick that I offer three times a week is a good option.” Popik also typically relates the eating habits of the sharks to our own.
Say you have to choose between eating you’re favorite meal in front of you or running to eat the same plate of food on the other side of the room, which option would you choose? Since the feeding pole is used to feed the sharks, the food may miss their mouth and then they have to dash to catch the food. Therefore, “wild instincts do kick in and if there is an easy target of a fish in the exhibit that disappears, well that’s nature.” The first option is a lot easier for the both of us to satisfy our hunger needs.
The sharks get fed a variety of food depending on the seasonal availabilities. “The sharks are fed squid, herring and mackerel on a regular basis, and we will add other types of fish like flounder, porgy, skate, bluefish, bonnito & mullet seasonally.” On average our sharks get fed about 20lbs per feed and about 60lbs per week. To ensure each shark is being fed enough food the aquarists also use target feeding.
Be sure to catch a glimpse of the shark feedings at 3:30pm every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.