EverydayGreen is a serious DIY addict and has practiced green and frugal living her entire life. She is a freshwater fish enthusiast.
So You Want to Get a Pet Shark?
If you are serious about wanting to buy a pet shark, it's going to cost you some serious cash. True, sharks are much too large for the standard aquarium that you find in most homes. The minimum recommended size for a shark tank depends on the type of shark you want to keep. The range varies from 180 gallons to over 10,000 gallons. The tank will then have to be fitted with a saltwater filtration system and properly cycled before you can even think about making a shark purchase. Here's an idea of what it takes to build your own shark tank. This article will cover the following information and tips for shark owners:
- How to Buy the Pet Shark That Is Right for You
- Preparing Your Home Aquarium for Your Pet Shark
- Where to Buy a Pet Shark
- Freshwater Aquarium Sharks
- Acclimating and Caring for Your Pet Shark
- A Pro Tip for Potential Shark Owners
How to Buy the Pet Shark That Is Right for You
If you have the funds to purchase a pet shark and all of the necessary equipment, then you need to do some research to decide which shark will give you the most enjoyment. If you are looking for a shark for a 180-gallon tank, consider one of the following:
- Marbled Catshark (Atelomycterus macleayi) - grows to about 24"
- Coral Catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus) - grows to about 28"
- Gray Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium griseum) - grows to about 30"
- White-spotted Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium plagiosum) - grows to about 36"
If you are looking to go larger, a 500-gallon tank could accommodate any of the following:
- California Horn Shark (Heterodontus francisci) - grows to about 38–40"
- Brown-banded Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) - grows to 40"
- Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) - grows to 42"
- Japanese Wobbegong (Orectolobus japonicus) - grows to 42"
All of the sharks mentioned above are relatively hardy and can be kept by anyone who has experience with saltwater fish or reef aquariums. They can be sensitive to nitrate levels (as low as 10–20 ppm) and do need a high flow rate, but other than that, most of these sharks are happy in a standard reef environment.
A 1,000-gallon tank can accommodate Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) or Whitetip (Triaenodon obesus) sharks. These sharks can grow anywhere from 48" to 60" and can be kept with a variety of reef fish as long as they are adequately fed.
In some cases, you will be offered nurse sharks because of their docile nature. Do not buy a nurse shark unless you have a 15,000-gallon pool to keep it in. Nurse sharks can grow to lengths of up to 14 feet.
A small spotted Catshark egg sack
Preparing Your Home Aquarium for Your Shark
Before you buy a pet shark, you need to have an aquarium ready for it. Sharks are extremely sensitive to water conditions, and not having the correct tank ready for their arrival is a death sentence. Your tank should be set up and running with a high water filtration rate (at least six full water cycles per hour).
Outfit your tank with a sandy bottom and live rock and run it through an entire nitrogen cycle before adding your shark. This could take up to six months, depending on the method you use to cycle the tank. Once the ammonia and nitrite fixing bacteria have reached stable levels, then you can bring your new pet shark home.
Where to Buy a Pet Shark
There aren't many places to buy an actual shark. Shark Supply and Fresh Marine are two reputable websites that offer several sharks for sale. In addition, Sharks for Sale has listings from both local and international dealers.
If you are a novice, stick with the varieties mentioned above. There will be several others to choose from, but they are best left to those who already have shark-keeping experience. Purchasing from an exotic pet shop that carries sharks near you will be much better than going for the online buy. The shop owner will likely know quite a bit about the particular shark and may even be able to put you in contact with the breeder.
Having these kinds of connections is invaluable when you are starting out with a new shark. Keep in mind, most of the top breeders are located along the Florida and Georgia coastline. The Florida Tropical Fish Farm Association keeps an up-to-date listing of all authorized shark breeders in the area.
If your local dealer has a shark available to purchase, look for the following in the shark tank:
- Cleanliness with no sign of algae or debris.
- No spots or blemishes on the shark's body; these could be signs of fungal infection.
- Fully extended fins because they are the number one sign that a shark is healthy. Sick sharks pull their fins in.
Once you buy your shark, it will be shipped in a box that will allow the shark to swim around. Most shippable sharks are pups because they can be shipped in smaller boxes. The minimum shipping size of the box will be at least one and a half times as wide and three to four times as long as the shark.
Shipping can be quite expensive once the size of the box and the weight of the shark and water is considered. Sometimes shipping costs more than the shark itself. The bamboo shark, horn shark, coralcat, or wobbie pup, are often shipped in tiny 5-gallon containers and are by far the best value.
Freshwater Aquarium Sharks
If you are looking for a freshwater aquarium shark for your existing home tank, you'll want to look at some of the "fake" sharks common to freshwater fish keeping. These sharks are actually members of the Cyprinidae family (related to carp) and include red-tailed and rainbow sharks. Red-tails usually grow to about 6 inches in length on average but can reach up to 9. Rainbows top out at 5 inches.
However, both are quite aggressive and may work well with a group of six or more sharks. If you plan to keep more than one shark, it’s better to buy at least six more. Anything less than that may cause a problem because one shark would try to dominate the rest. If they are more than six, domination is impossible, so they get along better.
Acclimating and Caring for Your Pet Shark
Preparing the Tank
When your shark arrives, don't just toss it in the tank. The shock of the water change will most likely kill it. Even if it doesn't kill your shark, it will cause it undue stress that could lead to long-term infection and susceptibility to disease. Remove half of the water from the shipping container and dispose of it. Your shark should still have plenty of water covering the gills, if not, only drain the water until it reaches gill level.
Use an air hose to siphon water from your set-up tank into the shipping container. This will slowly change the water chemistry of the shipping container and make it closer to the tank water. Once the container is filled to its original level, empty half of the water again and siphon water from the tank to replace it. Do this a third time, and then introduce your shark to your tank.
Once your shark is acclimated to its new habitat (a day or two after initial introduction), begin the feeding regiment. You should feed your shark two or three times a week and use a variety of different foods. Sharks like meaty foods, including shrimp, squid, crabs, tilapia, and other whitefish. Sharks are known to be messy eaters but will usually finish off every last bite of a good-sized meal. If there is leftover food, remove it from the tank (or allow a living clean-up crew to do it for you).
Keep a close eye on the filtration system, and do weekly water checks for nitrite and nitrate levels. Even a small amount of nitrate can cause stress on a shark. This is why you should also have your filtration system on a back-up generator to prevent interruptions in filtration.
A well-cared-for shark can easily give you enjoyment for 12 to 25 years or more.
A Pro Tip for Potential Shark Owners
Join an online forum with other shark owners. They are an invaluable source of information and can make your shark owning experience much more easier and enjoyable.
Shark and Ray Central and Aquatic Community are two of the most active.
If you do buy a pet shark, please share your story below. It doesn't matter if you are new to shark keeping, looking to start, or a seasoned veteran—I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment, ask a question or send in a photo of your pride and joy!
© 2014 Everyday Green
SharkRulezz on July 21, 2020:
Thank you this informational and helpful
Wannabe epaulette shark breeder on May 10, 2020:
Are epaulettes legal in az
Shark pal on August 06, 2019:
Thank you very much for writing this article. I am thinking about getting a pet shark.
Everyday Green (author) from Michigan on January 04, 2014:
Not too many people are equipped to keep sharks at their homes, but they are like any other exotic pet. You just need to learn about them and have the cash on hand for all of their expenses. Actually, because sharks are kept in secure environments, they have the distinct advantage of not needing to be licensed in most jurisdictions (unlike other exotic pets).
Shelley Watson on January 03, 2014:
Fascinating article - not something I realised ordinary people did - thought only city aquariums kept sharks. Thanks for the knowledge and the great pictures. Up, beautiful, interesting and useful.
It’s essential when looking for a shark for your aquarium that you consider the maximum reported length of the species, which represents the largest specimen ever measured. Not all members of a species will attain that size, but it’s also possible that a rare specimen may exceed the measurement. Although length data are very limited for some shark species, the listed maximum length for a species will give you a good idea of the space requirements for a given shark. Most of the species I consider suitable for a home aquarium do not exceed 40 inches.
Epaulette sharks will reproduce in large home aquariums. Image: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com
Not only are the suitable species smaller in length, they also have different lifestyles than the animals that most of us think of when it comes to sharks. The best aquarium sharks are bottom-dwelling species that live on coral or rocky reefs. These animals are used to navigating among crevices, caves and overhangs. Some of these sharks (e.g., epaulette sharks, Hemiscyllium spp.) even exhibit specialized modes of locomotion that enable them to better move about within tight spaces. Many of these sharks also spend a considerable amount of time resting in reef crevices, especially during the day.
It should not be surprising that these reef-dwelling sharks are more comfortable in the limited confines of an aquarium than other sharks. The more active species (e.g., smoothhound sharks, genus Mustelus) that spend more of their time swimming need a lot of room to move about. Although some of these sharks will occasionally rest on the sea floor, they spend more time swimming in the water column.
Bigger is always better when selecting a tank for your shark. Specifically, you should choose one with a larger footprint: more length and width rather than height for the same volume of water. Sharks will utilize the added surface area. In the cases of the sharks I will suggest, keep a tank of at least 180 gallons for an adult specimen a larger aquarium would even be better (e.g., 300 gallons).
This doesn’t mean that juveniles cannot be kept in smaller tanks. They can, but be prepared to step up to a larger aquarium as the shark grows. If you do not have the money or space to keep an adult of the species in which you are interested, don’t buy a juvenile. Even if there’s a public aquarium in your area, it’s highly unlikely they will want to take your overgrown pet, and it is ecologically irresponsible to release a captive shark back into the ocean.
Because room to move is imperative, even for the more sedentary species listed later, keep tank decor to a minimum. Although the species recommended live in habitats that are more structurally complex, in an aquarium, you will want to provide plenty of room so they can move about, usually at night. When they hunt or attempt to create or tuck into hiding places, they may knock aquarium decor loose and dig under rocks and corals.
Place fish tank decorations directly on the aquarium bottom before adding sand to the tank so that these items are less likely to crush a digging shark. To create more stable caves and crevices, use adhesives that are available for creating interesting topographical features or to attach corals to a reef. Provide your shark with a suitable hiding place, such as a cave created in a patch reef placed at one end of the tank. By placing the shelter site there, you will leave plenty of open aquarium bottom for the shark to move around. (For more detailed information on setting up and maintaining an aquarium for sharks, you may want to check out my book Aquarium Sharks and Rays ).
Now let’s take a look at some of the most suitable aquarium sharks.
Starfish react badly to changes in water quality, so you shouldn't attempt to introduce one to a tank that isn't stable and well established. The salinity of your water should be between 1.022 and 1.025, although it's best to stick closer to the higher end of that spectrum, as any drop below the lower figure could equal an untimely end for your pet. Water temperature should be between 72 and 76 Fahrenheit.
Once you have your starfish, it isn't as simple as just plopping him in the water he will need to be carefully acclimated to his new home. Follow the drip acclimation method. Float your starfish in his sealed plastic bag in your tank for 15 minutes to get him used to the water temperature, then pour the starfish and the water from his bag into a clean bucket or container. Don't expose him to the air, as this could kill him. Run a siphoned drip from your aquarium to the bucket, dripping at two to four drips per second wait until the water has tripled in volume, then carefully pour the starfish and the water into your aquarium.
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Caring for Pet Chameleons
Hasan Behlivan / Getty Images
Chameleons are amazing creatures, but they aren't the best pets for everyone. Since their care requirements are quite specific and they are easily stressed, chameleons are not for the beginner herpetologist.
But true chameleons (also referred to as old world chameleons) known for their ability to change color, make fascinating pets for those up to the challenge.
Being territorial and solitary animals, chameleons should be kept by themselves males are especially aggressive toward one another.
Common Name: Chameleon
Scientific Name: Chamaeleonidae
Adult Size: Widely varies—27 inches at largest, and .5 inches at smallest
Life Expectancy: 3 to 10 years in captivity