While many of us are headed back to school this fall, the sharks in The Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank are getting an education of their own: trainers are wading into the exhibit every day to teach them new behaviors!
How do you train a shark?
It starts with target training: give the animal a target, something it can see easily, like a brightly colored disc on a pole, then offer it a food reward every time it touches the target. Now the animal will know to go to the target when it’s hungry.
Check out this video to see one of our zebra bullhead sharks touch her target and get a tasty piece of clam! For the sharks in the shark and ray touch tank, this feeding happens before we open to the public. So it’s great to get a look at this behavior in this video.
Target training is great for teaching animals to stay out of each other’s food. It’s also the first step in getting them to learn more complicated behaviors. Once a shark has learned to target successfully, we can start teaching it to follow a moving target. Some of the sharks are even learning to swim into a shark-sized stretcher. This can be incredibly useful for Aquarium medical staff–imagine being able to call over your shark when it’s time for a checkup!
The more we work with the sharks, the more comfortable they get with human interaction, which is good for us, good for the sharks, and good for you when you visit the touch tank. Keep an eye out for sharks doing interesting new things, and feel free to ask an Aquarium educator about anything you see. We’re always learning new things about what our sharks can do, and you can learn too!