While kids are on vacation, school is in session for the sharks in the shark and ray touch tank.

Feeding time is actually when all the learning happens.

There are five species of shark in the Trust Family Foundation Shark and Ray Touch Tank, and all are learning how to swim into a sling to receive their food. This offers the aquarists and veterinary staff a great opportunity to get up-close looks at the sharks. This is helpful for when sharks need to get their regular checkups with the vets or if any of the sharks need to be transported.

Here’s what a training session usually looks like.

Each shark species has a particular place in the exhibit where they are fed; today we’re looking at the brown banded bamboo sharks. Aquarists Jason and Christina set up the feeding station, and usually the sharks are right there waiting for them. Jason feeds each shark as it settles into the sling, while Christina rewards the shark with even more tasty morsels when it stays put. The sharks then learns to remain calm because tasty things happen in the sling, all the while giving the aquarists a good look at each shark and how much they are eating.


Shark School in Session

Fun fact: Each shark has particular markings on its pectoral fin. When the shark comes into the sling, the aquarist can get a good look at those markings and can tell which sharks are eating how much food. 

This is not the first time we’ve blogged about shark training in the shark and ray touch tank. Last year we talked about how aquarists were starting to familiarize the sharks with a target during feeding time. Slowly over time, they transitioned the target to a sling and the side of the exhibit using more patience and reinforcement with extra food during feeding time. Eventually, the shark keepers started getting the sharks comfortable with moving the sling up and down while they’re resting in it (you could observe this in the video). 

But this is not the end of the sharks’ training! Now that they are readily coming into the sling for feeding and staying calm and relaxed as the sling is gently jostled about, the aquarists are starting to get the sharks accustomed to being touched. Aquarists have an empty syringe without a needle that they will gently touch to the shark’s skin, simulating what it would be like for a vet to administer a shot. 

aquarists gently touch the shark during training
Jason gently touches the shark during training while visitors look on

All this behavior modification helps us take better care of the sharks in this popular exhibit! Step by step, the animals have become more comfortable with the gentle handling that is required to monitor their health and administer medical checkups. Possibly the coolest part of this process is that visitors can watch it all! Training happens around 11 a.m. twice a week in the touch tank area.

Plan a visit and see how smart our sharks are! While you’re here, pop downstairs from the touch tank to see our Science of Sharks exhibit, where Curator Barbara Bailey talks more about shark training.

Keep Reading

See how far the sharks have come in their training by checking out this blog from last year.