What it’s like to work with sharks at Adventure Aquarium: every day is #SharkWeek!

By: Matt Ferroni, Biologist – Fish & Invertebrates

I saw JAWS for the first time about twenty years ago. That movie terrified me so badly that I was convinced there were sharks in the deep end of the swimming pool. If you had told me then that I’d be swimming with twenty-nine of them on a regular basis I would have laughed in your face. Who knew that one of my biggest fears would someday become a reality that I’d happily accept?

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium's Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

Biologist Matt Ferroni of Adventure Aquarium’s Fish & Invertebrates team, responsible for caring for the 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit.

Hi, I’m Matt Ferroni, the biologist responsible for Adventure Aquarium’s 550,000 gallon Shark Realm exhibit. The most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks eat the other fish in the exhibit?” The answer is that our sharks are very well fed. In the wild sharks can go for weeks between meals, but we feed our sharks three percent of their body weight three times per week.

Some of Matt's 'co-workers'

Some of Matt’s ‘co-workers’

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

Feeding the inhabitants of Shark Realm!

Each shark has a marking or distinguishing feature that we use to identify them. Our sand tiger and sandbar sharks are fed off of feeding poles from two different areas of the exhibit. Separating the sharks this way allows us to feed more quickly and accurately, but also keeps the sharks safer by reducing the chance of accidental bites when multiple sharks go for the same piece of food. As the shark takes food from the feed pole, the biologists call out the name of that shark to a recorder, as well as the amount of food that it ate. Keeping records of the feed allows us to closely monitor the sharks’ diets.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

All of the sharks are fed a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita.

So what do we feed the sharks? All of the animals in the aquarium are fed restaurant quality seafood. We offer a variety of fish including mackerel, croaker, blue fish, blue runner, porgy, skate, and bonita. Once a week the fish are stuffed with a specially formulated shark vitamin.

The second most common question I hear is “Why don’t the sharks attack the divers?” The answer to that question is that sharks are not the man eaters you have all been led to believe. Sand tiger, sandbar, and nurse sharks are all relatively docile as far as sharks go. When diving in the exhibits for routine maintenance we are always very aware of our surroundings. For the most part we give the sharks their space and they give us ours.

Preparing for a dive

Preparing for a dive

The sharks at Adventure Aquarium also receive routine physicals. The process is quite involved and requires the Fish and Invertebrates team to work really well together. A team of five divers enters the water, and using L shaped PVC poles, they corral the designated shark over a rectangular net, operated by four additional team members. The net is then raised slightly to restrain the animal until the door that separates the exhibit from our acclimation area is opened, and the shark can be pushed through. Once the shark has calmed down, the team mobilizes a stretcher and guides the shark inside. At this point, the shark is flipped on its back in a position known as tonic immobility, which is a natural state of paralysis similar to a human being put under anesthesia. Once in tonic, the shark relaxes and oxygenated water is forced over its gills. A typical physical consists of obtaining various measurements of the shark, as well as its weight, and usually a blood sample. At the conclusion of the physical the shark is flipped back over and spends several minutes swimming in the acclimation area before it returns to the exhibit.

Sharks are amazing animals and we go to great lengths to exhibit them for you. Our hope is that by the time you leave the aquarium you have gained an appreciation for how incredible they truly are and have maybe, just maybe, left some of that fear behind.

All in a day's work!

All in a day’s work!