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!

Remembering our Great Hammerhead Shark

Great Hammerhead

It is with heavy hearts that we announce that the larger of our two Great Hammerhead sharks died Wednesday after a diagnostic medical procedure.

There had been ongoing concerns about this shark’s health over the last several weeks, so on Wednesday our staff made the decision to perform some medical examinations in order to diagnose and help treat him.

Unfortunately, due to complications associated with the procedure, and despite tremendous efforts by our biologists and veterinary staff to do everything possible to save his life, he was unable to recover.

The Great Hammerhead first arrived at Adventure Aquarium in 2008 and soon held the distinction as being the only animal of its kind on exhibit in the country. Great Hammerheads are exceedingly rare in zoo or aquarium environments because of requirements for exhibition and transport challenges. In 2012, Adventure Aquarium welcomed a second, younger Great Hammerhead to the Ocean Realm exhibit, who is currently thriving and in great health.

“While we are all deeply saddened by this loss, we are grateful for the time we had with this extraordinary animal – for what we’ve learned about Great Hammerhead behavior; and the knowledge and experience gained from housing such a rarely-exhibited species,” said Adventure Husbandry Director Marc Kind. “This Great Hammerhead’s contribution to the public’s education of this endangered species will ensure that his legacy continues well into the future.”

NEW! Zebra Sharks released into Ocean Realm

Zebra Shark Collage

We are thrilled to announce that this week, two Zebra Sharks were released into our 750,000 gallon Ocean Realm exhibit. The two sharks – a juvenile male, approximately 2 years old and adult female, possibly 10 years old – join another adult, female Zebra Shark that has been at Adventure Aquarium since April 2008.

We received the male from the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, as a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) through our participation in their Zebra Shark Species Survival Plan. It is our hope that the male will breed with the females in about two years, after becoming sexually mature.

Native to Pacific coral reefs, Zebra Sharks are considered mostly bottom-dwelling sharks whose diet consists mostly of mollusks, crabs, shrimp and lobster. You can meet these exciting new additions to Adventure Aquarium during your next visit. See them on exhibit in Ocean Realm – Zone A.

Learn how to spot them:
The good news is that you can’t miss them thanks to their light color, spots and beautiful long tails. Zebra Sharks do not have a bottom lobe on their tail like most sharks do, giving them and their tails a distinctive, snake-like appearance.

Did you know?
Zebra Sharks get their name from the black stripes that cover their bodies when they are young. As they mature, their stripes fade and turn to spots. Because of this, they are known as “leopard sharks” in some regions.



Spotlight on Adventure Aquarium’s Great Hammerhead Sharks

Did you know?! Adventure Aquarium is proud to be the only aquarium in the United States to have Great Hammerhead Sharks on exhibit.

There are nine different species of Hammerheads in the world, and the Great Hammerhead is the largest!  Our sharks – Adventure Aquarium is home to 2! – are about 7 feet and 5 feet long.

hammerhead_final (2)

On August 29, 2008, we received our larger Great Hammerhead Shark. He is named after Beaker the Muppet because of the similarities of their mouths. Beaker came from the Florida Keys; Anchor, our smaller Great Hammerhead Shark, is also from the Florida Keys. Adventure Aquarium has been home to Anchor since September 16, 2011 and he got his name from a special Facebook contest we ran a while back!

Beaker and Anchor are fed 6 out of the 7 days of the week; they are given one day of fasting per week. Their diet of choice consists of whole fish, such as mackerel. To feed the sharks, our biologists attach whichever fish Beaker and Anchor order that day onto the end of a long pole. They need to be fed separately so that we can make sure they both get the correct amount of food and vitamins. Join us for a shark feeding on Saturday at 2:45 pm!

Beaker and Anchor hope to see you at their home inside Ocean Realm at Adventure Aquarium during Shark Week: LIVE!

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.