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alprazo 10/20/2012 10:20 PM

So you want to buy a shark? (Shark primer)
Sharks in the home aquaria is nothing new. I bought my first in 1992. It was a common epaulette and I made every mistake with the poor gal. Despite that, I learned that these are resilient animals but deserve a different type of care than your average predatory fish.

Before deciding on species and tank size there are several items that are a must for keeping them. First is a good refractometer. Many, like horns sharks, are intolerant of low salinities, so a top off system is also a good thing to have. Second is temperature control. Heaters need cages since sharks are unable to feel heat in their skin and will suffer burns from direct contact as they lie on the heater. Many sharks that are seen in the trade are subtropical or even from temperate waters and will require a chiller. Also have a redundant system and/or alarms with both heaters and pumps. A big skimmer is also a must. Though most sharks don't eat daily, the meals are large and a lot of waste is produced. For this reason the filtration needs to be oversize. Live rock in the tank will not cut it. Sand filters and bead filters are most commonly used. Last, some form of nitrate removal should implemented. You can put away the halides or LEDs because they are not needed.

For habitat - benthic or ground sharks require a sand bed and enjoy shelter in the form of live rock or boulders. I recommend 2-3 inches of sand because many like to sift through it looking for food. Screens or tank lids are important to keep them from climbing out. Pump intakes need screens as well as duplication to prevent suction injuries. For swimming sharks, round shaped tanks without corners, minimal rock work, and flush pipes inside the pool will help prevent injuries. Many use black markers on the walls to prevent rubbing and eye injuries and again a screen to prevent jumping is a must. The last thing that all sharks need is iodine supplementation. This is usually done in vitamin form and Mazuri appears to monopolize the market.

The best way is to determine what species you want and create a system for it. That senario almost never occurs and the tank comes first. Now we are trying to find a shark to fit it.

ORV sharks or sharks that breath by swimming are uncommon in the home aquaria with one exception; the black tip reef shark. Though these sharks are readily available and found in 300 gals in many LFS they have no place in a square tank. They belong in a swimming pool with a good 16 foot diameter. Bonnetheads also show up from time to time. Again, these need plenty of space, are delicate animals, are susceptible to untreatable fungal infections and require frequent feelings.

The smooth hounds and white tipped reef sharks have the ability rest on the bottom. These have the appearance of an ORV and for that reason are attractive to many shark owners. These also get big, spend a good amount of time swimming and really have the same tank size requirements as the ORVs mentioned above.

Bullhead or horns sharks are another group that are often available. California horns, Japanese horns, crested bullheads, port Jacksons, and zebra horns are the most commonly encountered. These all are moderate sized sharks reaching a length of 4 ft. They are very hardy, temperate to sub tropical temperatures and breed in captivity. The exception is the Zebra horn. This shark is the most difficult to keep of the group. The Mexican horn is a smaller species with a flattened head and desirable to people with smaller tanks in mind but is less commonly seen.

Wobbegongs are another species that can be found in your LFS. Some species get huge reaching 9 ft and most often wobbies are misidentified. They are voracious eaters, inhaling large fish tankmates and even similar sized sharks. Though they have beautiful patterns on their skin but buyer beware with these. They are unpredictable, will bite you and are best housed alone.

Probably the most encountered shark is the brown banded carpet shark, often mislabeled as cat shark. Their eggs are frequently offered too. Though available and inexpensive, I believe that they are a poor choice for most due to their adult size. There are other bamboos available such as the Arabian and Gray that reach a more manageable size and are just as hardy. The hasslet's shark has beautiful juvenile patterning and a desirable price. This shark however has a notoriously poor track record in captivity and is best avoided.

The cat sharks are a diverse group. The cold water cats are small and perfect for large home aquaria but need temps in the 50s to 60s to thrive. Chain, izu and cloudy cats are all available tank bred and should do well in a 240 gal. The tropical cats such as the coral, marbled and Bali are also good choices but grow larger and are best housed in a round tank. These are hardy, attractive, and affordable. They are all nocturnal like most benthic sharks so you are unlikely to observe them during the day.

Probably the best species for the square tank home aquaria is the Papua New Guinea Epaulette. The species are walking sharks, are used to rock work and able to navigate small spaces. They are extremely hardy, tolerate temporary shifts in water quality, low oxygen saturation and brief periods out of water. In addition to the smaller PNG species, the speckled epaulette is attractive and maxes out around 30 inches. The common or Australian epaulette is the largest of the genus available and will reach 3 ft. All are know to breed readily in captivity. I have a pair of 20 inch PNGs breeding in a 300 gallon stock tank. They have appeared to reach their maximum size.

Banded hound sharks, short tail nurse sharks, blind sharks, are all relative new species to the aquarium trade and something to consider for the enthusiast.

Leopards and nurse sharks should be species of the past. The leopard is now listed under the Lacey act and possessing a shark under 36 inches will draw stiff penalties. The nurse shark is now listed o as a large costal shark and needs to be 54 inches to keep, which is a heavy one. Small pups possibly come in from Mexico but are best left in the ocean. They get rather large and love to consume food. They will eat you out of house and home.

Feel free to ask questions, but I hope that this primer gets you started if considering buying a shark.

Jsamper 10/20/2012 10:43 PM


randomfishguy85 10/21/2012 06:54 AM

this should be made a sticky

CuttleKid 10/21/2012 02:21 PM

Alprazo, I have a few questions. I am in my sophomore year in college, but when I buy my forever home, I want to have a large shark and ray pond in my basement. My questions are

1. Are ponds more suitable for sharks and rays?
2. Can you mix different types of sharks, such as epaulettes, catsharks, bamboos together?
3. What stingrays would be good to mix with the above sharks? (My favorite ray is the yellow stingray). Is that a good choice?
4. Is there a temperature that would be suitable to keep tropical and sub tropical species together? (like horn shark and epaulette, or fiddler stingray and yellow sting ray?)



alprazo 10/21/2012 03:18 PM


I am going to go in reverse order. is a great site to determine the habitat of your shark. Keep in mind that these are surface temps and some sharks, depending on location will live at different depths. For instance the Zebra horn shark has a wide range from Japan to Australia. In Japan, it can be found in the shallows. Off Northern Australia it is found at depths of 50 meters plus. So yes, depending on the species you may be able to find an optimal temperature.

Sharks and rays usually do well together. Certain rays such as the Atlantic can become quite aggressive feeders and out compete the slower sharks for food. It is something to keep in mind.

Most ground sharks like the ones listed above usually do quite well together. Selecting fish to add to the shark tank takes significantly more time and consideration.

In my opinion, yes, ponds are preferable. They allow for more square footage and rounded corners. Stock tanks such as this one ( are commonly used. The downside is that you now view the shark from the surface, which is suboptimal. Viewing panels can be incorporated into the pool but this does increase the chance of leakage and disaster.

Holyhands22 10/21/2012 06:58 PM

I really want to do a shark tank. I was interested in the banded cat doing a pair what are good tank mates and how can u create the ideal habitat in your house?

alprazo 10/21/2012 07:42 PM

The species you are talking about is a carpet shark and not a cat. Brown banded bamboo shark to be specific. Ideally you would have a minimum of an 8ft diameter tub similar to the link above. One to two inches of sand and some large live rock boulders for them to hide. Temp would be 78-82 degrees. Maturity is reached around 3 years and expect your sharks to be about 2 feet. They probably will not get much more than 36 inches in captivity.

Discussing telost tankmates is like saying " what angel can I put in my reef? ". Some individuals will be fine, others of the same species will not. There is no simple answer. Even the safest fish can out compete your sharks for food. The best answer is to put your fish in another tank.

jjk_reef00 10/22/2012 12:11 AM

Since people are going to be asking about rays:
1.) The easiest ray is the california round ray or cortez ray. The blue spotted ray is very difficult to keep and IMO should not be kept unless you have previous ray/shark keeping experience.
2.) The minimum size tank for a full grown ray should be 8' x 30" x 20" (LxWxH). Some will argue for smaller tanks but rays are extremely active and should be provided ample swimming space similar to large tangs. My california round ray was easily as active as my 9" Naso tang.
3.) Heavy filtration is a must as mentioned above. My ray ate way more than any other fish I've ever owned I would feed him 2 times a day. Feed fresh seafood like scallops, shrimp squid, along with any other frozen foods that are available. Just like fish, a varied diet helps keep them stay healthy.
4.) Just like sharks, a minimum of 3" fine grain sand is required. Rays will bury themselves in the sand at night and you can bury the food in the sand for them to dig it out. Rays can also be hand fed and become very tame.

Dale Cooper 12/31/2012 12:53 AM

alprazo, I love the baby in your avatar.

alprazo 01/20/2013 12:01 PM

Thx, the pic is of a Ward's Wobbegong aka Northern Wobbegong. Lost her to a pump intake when the fitting was knocked off.

heathercking 02/19/2013 08:22 PM

HELP! Banded cat shark sick or spawning / pregnant?
I was curious if you've ever experienced a shark lay eggs? if not then just reply to me w/ a simple "no", lol ;) If you have then I wanted to know what her behavior was like prior to the 1st time she laid an egg.

We have a female 30" banded cat shark w/ a swollen belly and she's hasn't had much of an appetite. She also hasn't been swimming much. We've had her (and the 300 gal) for 2 years and she was already 2' when we got her. She has always been perfectly healthy, active and even super sweet. Everything else in the tank is acting fine, including our cortez ray. All of the levels are okay. We just added a larger skimmer, sump and a PhosBan 150 - we did all of this to try to improve water quality even more for her... after she started acting different.

Just want to find out the behavior or a "pregnant" shark so we can rule it out or keep it as a possibility. I know cat sharks will lay eggs and the male fertilizes the egg after the female lays it.

Also wanted to add, she has no red under her belly when the lights are on but when the lights are off her tummy and fins always turned a little pinkish in color - ever since we got her. Otherwise she had always eaten grew and acted great - eyes are perfectly clear as well.

I would love ANY input!

alprazo 02/19/2013 09:15 PM

Does she eat at all? I have and eppie that lays about 4 eggs a month. Other than being fat, she acts normal. Some sharks, like the short tail nurse shark will stop eating for several days and rest before depositing eggs. There is no such thing as a banded cat shark so my guess is that you have a brown banded carpet shark. I would not expect a dramatic change in behavior before dropping an egg, though I have never witnessed one lay an egg.

Bacterial infections, intentional blockages, over eating and malignancy can cause the symptoms you describe. Feel her belly. Is should be soft and uniform. If she feels bloated, full of air or tense, I would treat with antibiotics. If she is infected, the gill movements will be rapid and she will likely appear weak, not just tired.

As for eggs, a shark can lay infertile eggs like a chicken. They are fertilized before, in vivo, not after releasing them. The females can store sperm for possibly years.

Hope this helps and good luck.

jacobzking 02/20/2013 02:02 AM


Originally Posted by alprazo (Post 21189600)
Bacterial infections, intentional blockages, over eating and malignancy can cause the symptoms you describe. Feel her belly. Is should be soft and uniform. If she feels bloated, full of air or tense, I would treat with antibiotics. If she is infected, the gill movements will be rapid and she will likely appear weak, not just tired.

At the moment she does have rapid gill movement and feels bloated. How do you recommend treating her? Here's a video...

alprazo 02/20/2013 08:15 PM

From the video, I don't see anything glaring. It seems to startle, it eyes are reactive, respirations are not labored, it appears well fed and other than the sand covering it, there are no obvious abnormalities to the skin. I need to know more about the shark's behavior that is bothersome to you. Does it take food at all? How did it acted when you palpated its belly?

jacobzking 02/20/2013 11:00 PM

I picked her up in the water yesterday and tried to force her to swim. She didnt resist me moving her (I was gentle) but when I set her down she convulsed violently for a minute (after being set down, not an attempt to escape), almost catatonic. She still isn't swimming, she sort of moves around on the sand bottom in a snake like slither. She won't respond to food.

Earlier today I found her laying on her side, body was very stiff and strained. Shortly after my wife (heathercking) found her upside down on the substrate. The shark, Taffy, seemed like she was trying to get right side up, but couldn't (either didn't have the energy to or was to out of it to know how).

I've seen her sort of "convulse" several times.

PLEASE feel free to call me if you have a moment. 469-348-3171 I'll be up well past 1am CST. This is really taking a toll on me as well, I've been almost sleepless the last 6 days worrying about her. Reading as much as I can, constantly changing small amounts of water. Calling aquariums and vets for advice... and I'm just not getting answers that help me (or Taffy).

She just happen to roll over and show me her belly right now and it looks pretty bad. Normally her belly gets a little red at night but this looks worse than normal. HELP!

the video makes the belly look way wore than it really does, its not quite as bad as it looks in the vid.

alprazo 02/21/2013 06:47 AM

If she is still alive, I would add antibiotics immediately. Preferably a intramuscular injection. If you do not have that available the oral route would be the next best bet and last would be bath.

Go to the elasmobranch husbandry manual - I think it is chapter 29 - in there is a pharmacopoeia. What ever antibiotic that you have at home, look up the dose and give it to the shark. I posted a video on this board on how to tube feed a shark. The same concept applies to giving medicine.

That said, there are other things that could cause the neuralgic symptoms your shark is exhibiting. A vitamin deficiency would be a concern and supplementation is worth trying. Viral illness, difficult to treat, is another concern.

With the bloated belly - I would first think bacterial.

jacobzking 02/21/2013 11:06 AM

I did recently add a small mimic lemonpeel tang that I bought from Petco. Do you think maybe it brought in a disease? Her stomach looks pretty normal again (no red spots) but she is still breathing hard, not swimming, twitching around quite a bit and of course no appetite.

jacobzking 02/21/2013 12:29 PM

Also, I'm about to take her to a vet that services a large Aquarium here (lots of sharks and Rays). Anything to expect, or anything I should ask? Any precautions when transporting her? Lets say it is some sort of parasite and they give her something for it, wont it just be reintroduced when she's put back in the main tank?

alprazo 02/21/2013 02:11 PM

THat is wonderful that you have that service available to you. I personally would give Baytril 10 mg/kg IM to her so very curious to see what the vet recommends.

Keep her in the dark, lights out. Less stimulus to the CNS.

From experience, I have noticed that the red bellies often come from lack of movement due to either pressure on the belly from the sand bed or glass bottom. This seems to improve rapidly as the sharks become active at night and is usually resolved by the next AM only to occur again.

Love to her the feed back from your vet.

Good luck

jacobzking 02/21/2013 04:14 PM

I just got back from the vet. We did give her some b12 via injection. They also gave her a 20mg injection of beytril and 6 additional doses to give every other day. They took a stool sample and a gill sample and could not find anything out of the ordinary. She was very docile and did not resist at all to be handled, even out of the water for the gill biopsy. The vet said the chance of survival is minimal.

jacobzking 02/21/2013 04:34 PM

Recent vid of her behavior after returning from vet, shes "burping" or hiccuping...

alprazo 02/21/2013 06:06 PM

That is very interesting behavior. Sharks lack a diaphragm since thy don't have lungs which makes a hiccup impossible, though it looks identical. It is a muscle spasm, probably from intermittent firing, which is not a good sign and often means pending doom.

I think you will know by tomorrow if you shark is going to make it. I had one floating and rolling in the current wih no ability to swim before only to find him calm on the bottom 12 hrs later, after a baytril injection. Still have the guy.

Good luck and let me know.

jacobzking 02/21/2013 07:10 PM

Labored breathing but no more irregular movements. Shes just hanging out at the bottom at the moment.

jacobzking 02/21/2013 09:58 PM

She didn't make it through the night :(

alprazo 02/22/2013 05:28 AM

Sorry to hear. Was really hoping for different news. It is difficult to say what happened. My guess was bad food. Either had a preformed toxin from bacteria, such as staphyloccus food poisoning where a toxin is made and makes you sick. It is not an infection. The only treatment is supportive measures. It could have happened before the food was initially frozen. This is the one where you get sick several hours after eating. Or it could be from ingesting a pathogenic bacterium such as listeria. This can take days to weeks to develop, the causes CNS problems, convulsions along with the common GI issues.

I do not think it came in with the tang.

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