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Shark basics

Posted 10/20/2012 at 10:23 PM by alprazo

This is a re-post of a thread but worth adding here.

Sharks in the home aquaria is nothing new. I bought my first in 1989. 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.
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