When you visit most of the public aquariums around and you couldn’t find the popular Great White Shark. You wonder “why are there no great white sharks in aquariums?”, “Are there any captive great white sharks?”
The fact is that there are no captive great white sharks! All attempts to keep the great white shark in public display proved futile. The longest a great white shark stayed in captivity is 198 days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This was in 2004 with 4 feet long, young great white shark. Prior to this feat, the longest was just 16 days.
You may think the reason great white sharks are not kept in the aquarium is that they are dangerous. Of course, that’s what Jaws made us believe.
Far from that, these sea creatures just don’t survive in captivity. Most attempts to keep them in aquariums didn’t go well for the sharks.
Let’s now find out why.
Why do Public Aquariums Not Keep Great White Sharks in Captivity?
Great white sharks are pelagic species that cruise in open waters. Moreover, they are ram ventilators that need to continuously swim to breathe.
Adding that they are fast swimmers, these qualities make it difficult for them to adapt to confinement.
When added to a tank, great white sharks tend to get depressed. They are unable to navigate through aquarium walls and would usually hit their nose against the walls.
This makes them more aggressive and increases their depression.
Another thing is that they fail to eat. Great white sharks are hunters by nature, thus, they need that excitement of hunting down their prey, instead of being fed by anyone.
When they fail to eat, they will quickly get weak and die of starvation.
To even attempt to keep the great white shark in captivity is very cost-intensive. The documentary of the great white shark kept at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2004 that survived for 198 days proved this point.
And, while this may sound like a breakthrough in keeping great white sharks in captivity, future attempts did not prove as much success. One of the sharks died after reintroduction to the ocean.
Comparing the cost and success rate, the program later came to a halt.
Other contributing factors to why great white sharks do not survive in captivity may include improper water solution, stress from transportation, and difficulty in handling.
It is better to leave them in the open ocean where they belong.
If you long to see a great white shark, maybe you should consider a boat trip in locations where great white sharks are common. There is a need to go under guidance as this may be dangerous.
Brief History of Great White Sharks in Captivity
Since the 1970s, there have been several attempts to keep the great white shark in captivity. These attempts took a bad turn with most of the sharks dying in captivity, while the others returned to the sea.
A good example was the attempt to keep a baby great white shark at the Steinhart Aquarium in August 1979. This shark did not survive up to 24 hours in captivity. Certainly, the shark was active, and swimming the first few hours, however, became inactive after a while.
Divers at the aquarium tried to get it to breathe by encouraging it to swim, but the shark never got better. It died!
You know, when the great white shark fails to swim, it stops breathing. And, once it is not breathing, it stresses and dies.
Before the 2004 “breakthrough”, there were several other attempts to keep the great white shark in captivity which ended just like the 1979 case.
In fact, the most successful among these survived for only 16 days. This attempt was at SeaWorld in San Francisco in August 1981. The great white shark failed to eat leading to its release back into the ocean.
In 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium set a new record for the longest period of keeping a great white shark in captivity. The young great white shark survived for 6 months before being released back into the ocean.
After this, there were five additional attempts at Monterey Bay Aquarium with similar success levels. The last died a few hours after reintroduction into the ocean following a 55-day captive life.
This saw the end of the project in Monterey Bay Aquarium in 2011.
Was the Project at Monterey Bay Aquarium the End of Keeping Great White Sharks in Captivity?
No! after the Monterey Bay Project in 2011, there were further attempts to keep the great white shark in other aquariums.
An example is an attempt at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan. This attempt took place in 2016 with an 11-foot male great white shark.
Unfortunately, this display did not last any longer as the shark died just 3 days in the aquarium.
Why Do Aquariums Attempt to Keep the Great White Shark in Captivity?
All sharks displayed in a public aquarium is to expose people to them. Witnessing these creatures in an aquarium will give you an experience you may not get to have in your lifetime.
Displaying the great white shark is also with the same intent to expose these sharks to the people.
Of course, the great white shark is among the most popular shark species. Its feature in Jaws made it so popular, though the role may depict it more negatively than it actually is.
Having firsthand experience of this shark can go a long way in counteracting the negative reputation people have against them.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s display of the great white shark gave millions of visitors this rare opportunity.
Although the Monterey Bay Aquarium no longer keeps great white sharks in their aquarium, they still expose people to them through animal crossing. They still post guided tours of New Horizons’ museum through their YouTube page.
Facts About Keeping the Great White in Captivity
Researchers while trying to sustain great white sharks in public aquarium discovered several facts about keeping these amazing creatures in captivity. Some of these facts include:
It is easier to keep younger great white sharks. The young sharks feed on fish which the Aquarium can provide. However, when they grow older, they prey on larger mammals which is more difficult to provide.
No matter how long a great white shark survives in an aquarium, it will still find it difficult to navigate the aquarium walls. These sharks move very fast and do not swim backward. As a result, they travel a great distance. When in captivity, this feature makes them unable to detect the glass walls, thus, making them continuously hit and injure their nose against the walls.
No tank is large enough to provide enough space for the adult great white shark. These sharks can dive up to 3280 feet (1000 m) in the open water. It is clear that no tank has this capacity to contain such activity.
Why Do Some Great White Sharks Stay Longer than Others in the Aquarium?
Taking a great white shark out of the ocean to the aquarium is like taking it through the process of dying.
Great white sharks as fish need water to breathe. To add to it, they need to always swim with their mouth open to get water through their gills.
Considering these features, taking them out of the water is stress already.
Moreover, most of them sustain injuries during capture (pulling from the ocean) or transition. This means that by the time they get to the aquarium, they have sustained injuries which they usually fail to recover from.
Depending on the level of injuries and the impact of the new environment, some may survive longer than others.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium however proved that great white sharks can be successfully taken out of the water and kept in captivity.
Do Great White Sharks Do Well with Tank Mates in Captivity?
For what we know, the longest captive great white shark in the Monterey Bay Aquarium killed some of its tank mates.
This is among the reasons for returning it back to the ocean.
Confinements can really stress great white sharks and this can increase their aggression. Tankmates may be the ones to suffer from this great predator.
Would there be Any Captive Great White Sharks in the Near Future?
With the success recorded so far, it is possible that scientists in the future may devise a means to keep great white sharks in captivity.
This will give more people the opportunity to have a close-up view of this amazing shark species.
While it sounds like an amazing development, we should really decide whether to try to keep them in captivity or better let them be.
Being one of the most talked-about shark species, the great white shark is one that most people would love to see.
Some Aquariums already attempted to bring this species closer to the people. The most successful being the Monterey Bay Aquarium which attracted millions of visitors during its running period.
Although no Aquarium keeps the great white shark at this time, this may change in the future. Of course, further studies are still ongoing to better keep these species as captives.