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!

#SharkWeek Special: Behind the Scenes with Adventure Aquarium’s Great Hammerhead Shark

Here at Adventure Aquarium, one of our most unique animals is the great hammerhead shark, which is in fact, the only one on exhibit in the entire country!

HH Feed1

As you can guess, he gets a lot of attention from visitors and biologists alike. Our husbandry team takes great care to ensure that the hammerhead, along with the other fish, sea turtles, sharks and rays in our 760,000 gallon Ocean Realm (the hammerhead’s home), is well cared for; and, one of the important factors in maintaining the great hammerhead shark’s health is making sure he is well-nourished.

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark

Biologist Liz Hann prepares to pole feed our great hammerhead shark from the top of Ocean Realm

The great hammerhead is fed six times a week, with a varied diet that consists of mackerel, herring, squid, blue fish, among other species. During each feed, he is fed around 2% of his body weight, which measures out to 900 – 1,000 grams of food. Due to the large amount of fish we feed the animals each day, the fish come to the aquarium frozen. When the fish is frozen, it loses some of its nutritional value. Therefore, our biologists will put a vitamin supplement inside the fish before feeding the sharks once a week, with our hammerhead receiving four and a half vitamins each feed.

Before even going to Ocean Realm to feed the great hammerhead, the biologists first get the vitamins and “fish of the day” to feed the shark. Once at Ocean Realm, there’s a specific procedure for feeding. First, the biologist will prepare the pole used to feed the sharks. The feed pole is around 12 feet long and has short, skinny prongs that stick out laterally at the bottom where the food is placed. Then, the biologist weighs one fish and records the weight on a form before sticking it on the pole. The biologist then taps the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding! This procedure is repeated until the shark becomes full or he has eaten his entire meal.

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Fish is placed at the end of the pole and dropped into Ocean Realm. Biologists tap the water with the pole, which signifies to the great hammerhead shark that it’s time for feeding!

Doesn’t seem too hard right? Well, sometimes competition can arise, even from our loggerhead sea turtles! The biologists work around this by having turtle-favorite treats like lettuce and veggies in case curiosity gets the better of the hammerhead’s shelled neighbors!

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Loggerhead Bob checks out the feed action

Curious sea turtles!

Curious sea turtles!

So what happens during a great hammerhead feed and what does it look like? Well, check out the exclusive video below!

Shark Rumors – Fact or Fiction? 10 Shark Myths Debunked by Adventure Aquarium Biologists

Sharks. They’re one of the world’s most misunderstood creatures, and are capable of being both fascinating and terrorizing to humans. And, hey, with movies like Jaws and the recently-popular Sharknado, it’s no wonder these guys get a pretty bad rap. Lucky for us (and you!), we have a team of Adventure Aquarium Biologists standing by to help us better understand sharks and debunk (or verify!) some of the most common and crazy rumors out there!

swimming with sharks

1. Sharks have poor vision: False!

Sharks can see very well. Their eyes can even distinguish color! Sharks’ eyes employ a lens that’s up to seven times as powerful as a human’s. Guess that explains why we’ve never seen a shark wearing glasses.

2. Sharks can detect a single drop of blood in the ocean: False!

Sharks may have great senses, but a shark’s sense of smell is often highly exaggerated in film and media. Some sharks can detect blood at one part per million, but let’s not forget how big the ocean really is. So, have no fear. If you happen to cut your foot on a shell while jumping some waves, no one will be immediately cueing the iconic Jaws theme song.

3. Sharks don’t blink: Fact!

Sharks have upper and lower eyelids, but the lids do not move, nor do they close over the eye. Sharks may protect their eyes when biting prey using a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane. Talk about a serious staring contest!AAQ Shark & teeth

4. Sharks can’t communicate: False!

Just like humans, sharks communicate through body language. For example, a shark may be saying “back off” when it hunches its back. Lowering the pectoral fins (two wing fins in the front), exaggerated movements, such as “zig-zaggy” swimming, quick turns, are also signs that a shark wants to be left alone. Now if only they could learn how to send a text.

5. Sharks are attracted to the color yellow: Kind of true, kind of false.

Does this color bring out my eyes? Well… sharks may not specifically be partial to the color yellow, but they are attracted to anything in the water that is a high color contrast. Minimizing brightly colored or patterned equipment may help reduce the level of contrast in the water.

6.  Sharks have no bones: Fact!

The skeleton of a shark consists of cartilage tissue. We have cartilage in our ears and nose. Sharks may have tough skin but their cartilaginous skeletons leave them vulnerable to blunt force trauma.  Cartilage allows them to turn, bend or twist making them agile in the water.shark cartoon- cartilage

7. Sharks need to eat all of the time: False!

Sharks are opportunistic predators, they eat when they find food, and eat as much as they can since it could be weeks before they find another meal. On average, a shark may eat about 2% of its body weight per day, which is slightly less than what a human consumes. A Great White shark can go without eating for 3 months, and some sharks can live for a year without eating, by surviving on the oil stored in their livers. That’s a pretty serious diet.

8. Sharks continuously grow new teeth: Fact!

Sharks replace their teeth up to 50,000 times in a lifetime. Imagine all of that Tooth Fairy money!

tooth fairy

9. Sharks are unintelligent: False!

Sharks have some of the largest brains among all fish, with brain-to-body ratios similar to mammals and birds. Sharks are even capable of learning a conditioned response faster than a cat or rabbit. AAQ’s sharks are conditioned (trained) to eat at a certain area of the exhibit.  We feed each species in a different area.

10. Sharks have no predators: False!

We might think sharks are the biggest, baddest, bullies of the sea, but other predators like killer whales have been known to prey on sharks. Sometimes sharks even eat other sharks. However, sharks most dangerous predators are humans. Unfortunately, millions of sharks are killed for their fins every year.AAQ Shark overhead

Sharks need to be revered, not feared. The goal of programs like Adventure Aquarium’s Shark Week: LIVE! is to educate guests about the ocean’s most amazing animals. Join in on the fun now through August 11.

Shark vs. Gator: Who would win?!


So who would win: The American alligator or the Sand Tiger Shark? The likelihood of this ever happening is highly unlikely solely due to their vastly different habitats (salt water vs. fresh water for example); but hey – we can use our imagination, right?

Let’s begin. So, a shark doesn’t have arms; therefore the alligator has a bit of an advantage. The winner must be the alligator; it’s the only opponent that can throw the punches! Okay, that isn’t a fair match for the Sand Tiger. I think we need to a dig a little further and actually look at the facts – what we know about each animal.

The Sand Tiger Shark has three rows of sparkling white, protruding, sharp-pointed teeth. They usually swim with their mouths open to show off their pearly-whites to friends and prey. On the other hand though, the American alligator is said to have the strongest bite of any animal!

If the alligator is able to sneak up on the Sand Tiger, then the alligator would be our winner. But hold on a minute…when it comes to sneaking up a shark, that’s almost nearly impossible. The reason being: sharks have an extra sense that we humans and other animals do not possess. They are able to detect the electromagnetic field that moving animals give off. Lesson learned- don’t ever try to sneak up on a shark, they will detect you from miles away! This is a great advantage for the Sand Tiger Shark. So it seems that the only way the American alligator has a chance is if it goes head on with the shark.

If this were a height/weight competition, the American alligator would win. The average length of an American Alligator is a whooping 14 feet. That is equivalent to two full grown men standing on top of each other, and then some! The average length of a Sand Tiger shark is only about 9 feet, quite a bit shorter than the alligator. When it comes to Sand Tiger sharks, the females are actually larger than the males. American alligators, on average weigh a little over 500 lbs, where Sand Tiger sharks are an average weight of 220 lbs. If this were a wrestling match, the American alligator would definitely come up on top.

But, since we are not talking about wrestling, we would deem the Sand Tiger Shark as the winner- sorry American alligator. Sharks can swim faster than alligators, and are more agile creatures. The Sand Tiger shark will always know where the alligator is due to their extra electromagnetic field sense that will detect the alligator. So congratulations Sand Tiger shark-you win!

Although… if there was confrontation on land, I think it is safe to say the American alligator would be the winner. What do you think?!

The Locals: Jersey Shore Shark Species at Adventure Aquarium

Have you met your new neighbors? No, no. We’re not talking about the ones that live down the block; we’re talking about the ones at Adventure Aquarium. Adventure Aquarium is home to animals from all over the world, including our Nile hippos and African Black-Footed penguins; however, some of our coolest creatures can be found just miles off the New Jersey coast. Do you know who you’ve been swimming with?

Sand Tiger Shark

Sand Tiger Shark

Sand Tiger Sharks: These sharks can be identified by their sharp, pointy head and bulky body and are marked with brown spots down their sides.  Sand Tigers prefer to hunt close to shore, and they get their name because they generally live close to shorelines or sandy beaches. One of the most unique things about Sand Tigers is that they gulp air and store it in their belly to increase buoyancy. This allows the Sand Tiger to be suspended in the water column which helps it hunt motionlessly and quietly.

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar Sharks: Also known as the Brown shark, Sandbar sharks are one of the largest coastal sharks in the world. They have a high, triangular dorsal fin and very long pectoral fins. These sharks are commonly found over muddy or sandy bottoms in shallow coastal waters, but sandbar sharks also swim in deeper waters and intertidal zones. The Delaware Bay is actually one of the largest nursery grounds for sandbar sharks, so juveniles are abundant in the lower bay.

Chain Dogfish

Chain Dogfish

Chain Dogfish: Chain Dogfish are new to Adventure Aquarium, and will be on exhibit for limited time only during Shark Week: LIVE! Get up close and personal with these sharks at one of Adventure Aquarium’s touch tanks. These smaller sharks measure about a foot long. They’re considered harmless and are rarely encountered by humans (unless you’re at Adventure Aquarium, of course). Chain Dogfish can be found at very deep depths ranging from 500 to 1,800 feet. Their pattern of narrow black stripes are so distinctive, Chain Dogfish are easy to identify.

Nurse Shark

Nurse Shark

Nurse Sharks: While not as common to New Jersey as other shark species at Adventure Aquarium, they can still occasionally be found off the coast. Nurse sharks are bottom-dwellers and are nocturnal, so they spend the day in large groups of up to 40 sharks and hunt at night. Their diet consists of crustaceans, mollusks, sea snakes, and other fish. Nurse sharks can reach a length of anywhere between 10-14 feet.


Blacktip Shark

Blacktip Sharks: Blacktip sharks are another shark species that are occasionally found off the Jersey coast, but they normally prefer coastal tropical and subtropical waters. They get their name from the black tips or edges on the pectoral, dorsal, pelvic, and caudal fins. Blacktips usually grow to be about 5 feet in length. These sharks are hunted commercially for their meat, skin, fins, and liver oil. They have been deemed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

There is no better time to visit all of our sharks than during Adventure Aquarium’s Shark Week: LIVE! . So what are you waiting for? Buy your tickets now through August 11 online and receive $5 off using discount code SHARK.

Top 5 Ways to Interact with Sharks at Adventure Aquarium

While the nation is celebrating Shark Week, we like to think “Every Week is Shark Week at Adventure Aquarium.” Here’s a rundown of our top 5 favorite ways to interact with the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast:

1. Touch a Shark!
Sure, sharks are super cool to watch behind the glass, or even on TV from the comfort of your living room. But you know what? It’s time to turn it up a notch and reach in to actually TOUCH a shark at Adventure Aquarium! Rest assured, the species in our Touch-a-Shark exhibit – including Indo Pacific Brown-banded, White Spotted Bamboo and Mexican Horn Sharks – are small, docile and harmless to humans.  BUT…as fun as it is for us to hear kids (and kids at heart) shout “I touched a shark!”, it’s even more thrilling to actually roll up your sleeves and have a turn at it yourself! Touch-a-Shark, sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is open 365 days a year, 10 am – 5 pm and is included with General Admission to Adventure Aquarium.

2. Check out the only two Great Hammerheads on exhibit in the country
Adventure Aquarium has the distinction of being the only aquarium in the United States with Great Hammerheads on exhibit. Our Great Hammerheads are about 7 feet long and 3 1/2 feet long. We’re not sure how big they’ll grow up to be, but the biggest Great Hammerheads on record were 20 feet long and over 950 lbs. (Wowsa!) Our Great Hammerheads are superstars during Shark Fest this summer, but you can visit them anytime in our 750,000 gallon Ocean Realm exhibit, where you can come within inches of these rare and fascinating creatures.

3. Come nose to nose with the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast
Who would have thought that being surrounded by sharks could be so…AWESOME?! It’s one thing to be floating around off the Jersey Shore and spot a gray fin (you would likely be on the shore in what – .001 seconds?). But it’s entirely something else to experience the immediate “wow” moment you get when strolling through our clear, 40-foot suspended Shark Tunnel. It’s here where you’ll come face to face with 23 different sharks as they swim and coast (literally) over your head and all around you. It’s all the thrills, and none of the spine-tingling chills.

4. Become a Megalodon Aficionado
It takes a pretty impressive animal to make a Great White look like fish bait. Thing is, Megalodon – also known as THE LARGEST SHARK THAT EVER LIVED – is extinct…has been for 2 million years.  But Mega-fever is stronger than ever! And, you still have a few weeks to discover what all the buzz is about. It takes just one walk through the “belly” of our metal Megalodon sculpture to realize just how massive this predator was. Oh, and the part about Great White sharks? Well, they’ve got BIG teeth. But their teeth are miniscule (3”) when compared to one of Megalodon’s (7”). And did you know that Megalodon ate the equivalent of 6,667 tuna cans. IN A DAY!  There’s so much to learn. Enter with awe, and leave with respect. Megalodon, Largest Shark that Ever Lived, sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is on exhibit at Adventure Aquarium for a limited time only – now through September 3, and is included with General Admission to Adventure Aquarium.
5. Go behind the scenes with our sharks.
We all know them…they’re shark fanatics. They love everything about these amazing creatures, they can school us on the difference between Sand Tiger and Tiger Sharks and they live each week like its Shark Week.  If you know someone like this (or if this person is you…) – listen up!  Did you know that you could actually SWIM WITH sharks at Adventure Aquarium? Or help our biologists prepare their food and pole feed hungry sharks in Shark Realm? Our Adventure programs are one-of-a-kind, and experiences you’ll never forget. Well what did you expect? We like to provide a full range of fintastic fun here! Swimming with sharks? Pole-feeding sharks? No big deal (shrugging shoulders). Here’s your chance. Swim with the Sharks and Feeding Fury are additional experiences, and are not included with General Admission to Adventure Aquarium. For more information, including pricing options and how to schedule, visit AdventureAquarium.com.