Those who watch sharks’ documentary see these creatures as beautiful, swimming seamlessly underwater, they often wonder if they could have a shark as a pet. And, if possible that there are sharks which can survive in captivity, what sharks are they?
While it is not advisable to keep any true shark species as an aquarium pet, some people who can afford very large tanks and food still keep them. They keep sharks such as the popular wobbegongs, some species of catsharks, epaulette sharks, and few other species of true sharks. It is important to note that some of these sharks grow very large and do not fit in any tank as adults.
Keeping true sharks as pets is not popular in most places and likely illegal. However, keeping pet sharks is an increasing status symbol among the super-rich in California. It is apparently legal to keep certain species of true sharks in places such as California.
Things to Expect from Having Pet Sharks
Never expect that there are sharks that grow really small to fit into a home aquarium. In fact, the smallest known true shark species include the dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi) which grows around 7 inches (17.8 cm), and it is not available to aquarists. Their natural habitat is difficult to impossible achieving it in an aquarium. They occur in deep ocean waters, thus, making them not only rare but unsuitable for captivity.
Among the few shark species that may be available for an aquarium, the size as an adult matters a lot. Some sharks do well in the aquarium as juveniles, however, their adult size does not allow them to fit into any tank. Public aquaria that keep these species reintroduce them back to their natural habitat as they grow larger.
An example of such sharks is the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum). While still a juvenile, the nurse shark will make a lovely aquarium pet. But an adult will grow over 10 feet (3 m) making it difficult to retain in an aquarium.
The few shark species that are available for aquaria purposes are chosen based on their ability to adapt to the confinements of a larger tank. Also, very important is how well they accept basic care routine for sharks.
Note also that one major challenge in keeping true sharks in an aquarium is that most of them need to continuously swim to breathe. This continuous swimming requires a larger swimming space which an aquarium can’t provide.
Factors to Consider Before Choosing a Shark as Pet
There are several factors to consider before deciding to keep a shark as a pet. These factors also help you to understand the basic processes of keeping pet sharks. They also serve as basic requirements for keeping sharks.
Maximum Adult Size of the Shark
While considering a shark to choose for your aquarium, seek out information on the maximum reported size of the species on your list. Of course, not all individuals will attain such length, but this will give you the idea of what to expect. Moreover, it is still possible that a rare individual may exceed the measurement.
Most shark species have limited available data on length. If you ever come across any data that appears logical, then you have to consider it.
The Expected Length of the Adult Shark Species
Any shark that is suitable for a home aquarium should have a length of around 3.3 feet (1 m). I would not recommend sharks that grow far larger than this. This will help you maintain them even as an adult, so long your tank is large enough. Pet sharks should be smaller in length than average sharks.
The Behavior of the Shark Species
It is important to understand that sharks have different behaviors and lifestyles. These behaviors can as well make them suitable or unsuitable for home aquaria. Shark species that I consider good for aquarium habitat are bottom-dwellers. They include sharks with habitat preference of coral reefs, sandy flats, and rock crevices.
These shark species would always swim in the bottom, moving between caves, hiding in crevices, and overhangs. They have adaptations that will help them navigate through tight spaces effortlessly.
Another suitable behavior involves being active at specific times of the day. For example, nocturnal sharks will be active during night times and rest most of the day time.
Choosing less active shark species is ideal for the home aquarium. These sharks do not demand extra room to showcase their swimming skills. That is to say, if you choose more active sharks that swim most of the time in the water column, you will need to provide enough swimming space to satisfy their swimming need.
The Bigger the Tank the Better!
I do not need to overemphasize the importance of larger tanks. When choosing a tank, go for tanks with more length and width than height for same-capacity tanks. Your pet shark especially the ones I will suggest here will definitely make use of the extra surface area.
Also, considering the species suggested on this page, I will suggest a tank of size not less than 200 gallons. In fact, you should have in mind 300 gallons, however, in case of considerable factors, never go below 200 gallons. And like always, the bigger the better.
Some aquarists may keep juveniles in smaller tanks, and later transfer it to a larger one. Certainly, this is possible, but do not be carried away. If you must start with a smaller tank, then make you are ready to start setting up a larger tank immediately.
Never purchase a juvenile shark if you can’t care for the adult. It is unlikely that any aquarium will accept an overgrown shark from you. Hence, keep that thought aside while going for a pet shark.
These sharks can grow larger faster than you imagine. Therefore, if you can’t afford the space or cost of a larger tank at the moment, maybe you should keep the practice for a later time.
Swimming Space is as Important as Aquarium Décor
Do not overcrowd your tank with material décor. It is undebatable that these sharks live in habitats more structurally complex, however, you should still keep décor at minimum. These species also need space to swim and move around especially while hunting.
Make sure to use strong and stable décor to avoid them crashing on toph your pet shark. Of course, these sharks would often dig at the bottom of rocks. To secure your décor materials, introduce them before adding sand to the tank.
Use adhesives available for creating coral reefs to make your décor more stable. Introduce caves and other reef set-ups that will serve as hiding places and shelter for your pet shark at one end of the tank. The idea is to leave enough open space for your shark at the bottom to move around.
Sharks that You Can Keep as a Pet
Here are suggestions of true sharks that you can keep as aquarium pets. These sharks will do well in a home aquarium if all the necessary factors involved in setting up a tank for them are met. I also considered the safety of the aquarist keeping them before choosing.
Most other shark species not only grow large but can be dangerous to keep at home. Hence, this is a list of sharks mostly considered harmless to humans. They include:
The Wobbegong Shark (The Wobbie)
The wobbegong shark is a name for a group of shark species listed under three genera Eucrossorhinus, Orectolobus, and Sutorectus. These sharks belong to the family of Orectolobidae. They are otherwise known as carpet sharks.
The wobbie is quite an occasional visitor to the aquarium trade. Although, not all species of wobbegongs are fit for aquarium life. The popular aquarium species of wobbegongs includes the tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) and Ward’s wobbegong (Orectolobus wardi). Some aquarists also consider Cobbler’s wobbegong (Sutorectus tentaculus).
These species of wobbegongs do not usually grow beyond 3.3 feet (1 m). Hence, their size is acceptable for a home aquarium.
Wobbegong sharks in nature live in coral and rocky reefs across Australia. In case if you start looking for one know where to look.
Considering their behavior, wobbegongs are generally slow and lethargic. They usually choose a preferred resting spot and always spend most of their time at that spot. Even if they leave for hunting at night, they are much likely to return to the same spot during the day.
This behavior of wobbegongs means they are not active and do not require a large swimming space. They are ambush predators which will hide camouflaging themselves against the seafloor waiting for an unsuspecting prey that will approach. Yeah, maybe you do not need a really large after all.
While the wobbie may seem to be the perfect aquarium shark even with their attractive complex body patterns, these are voracious eaters. They do not do well with tank mates. In fact, they will turn even larger tank mates to food.
Ensure to keep a wobbegong in a separate tank and feed it as required. Note that this shark can eat till it regurgitates. So, be aware to feed it reasonably.
The Epaulette Shark
Epaulette sharks should make the top in the list of aquarium sharks. There are about seven species of epaulettes with the most common being (Hemiscyllium ocellatum). These sharks rarely grow beyond 30 inches (76.2 cm) in length making them suitable for a home aquarium.
The epaulette shark will spend most of its daytime hiding in crevices. But, at night they emerge and hunt for food.
They are bottom-dwellers that rarely swim, instead, they prefer to ‘walk’ on the aquarium substrate. Of course, they do not have legs, however, they use their muscular pectoral and pelvic fins to push themselves in a walking-like manner. This gives them the nickname “walking sharks.
Apart from attaining only a small length and being a bottom-dweller, the epaulette shark has a beautiful body pattern. These markings are quite attractive and will make you want to go home with this shark.
All these characteristics and their readiness to adapt to a confined space make the epaulette shark suitable for a home aquarium.
At the moment you can only find one species of the epaulette in the aquarium trade. This is the common H. ocellatum. More species are likely to be available soon due to the expansion of the specimen collection.
Naturally, the epaulette shark inhabits coral reefs with their geographical distribution covering Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia. They usually move to sandy flats, seagrass meadows, or rubble beds to find their food, especially at night. The major adaptation for hunting includes their electroreceptors and sense of smell.
These sharks are oviparous depositing leathery egg capsules on the sea bottom. They even reproduce in a large public aquarium. This means that the introduction of more adult specimens in the aquarium industry will facilitate captive-breeding programs to make the species further available to lovers.
The Catshark has several species of very attractive sharks under the common name. These are from the family Scyliorhinidae. In a contest of beauty, these sharks are likely to make the top list.
Unfortunately, out of the many species of catsharks, only a few come to the aquarium trade. If you happen to encounter a catshark in the aquarium trade, it is likely the coral catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus). Though it is common to mistaken other species like this one.
The coral catshark makes a great home aquarium addition. Just provide this shark with enough hiding places and open space for free movement at night. Be careful with the peaceful appearance of this shark species, they are efficient predators. They will likely feed on any fish or crustacean that fits wholly into their mouth.
In nature, the coral catshark will usually slide between rock interstices or under debris especially during the day. But, at night, these sharks emerge to hunt for fish and invertebrates. These sharks do not grow that large, the expected maximum adult length is about 27 inches (68.6 cm).
Other Known Aquarium Catsharks
Occasionally, some species of very attractive cool-water catsharks also come into the aquarium trade. Examples are species under the genus Asymbolus indigenous to western Australia. At a small size of about 20 inches (50.8 cm) these sharks mature sexually making them ideal for captive breeding programs.
Also, occasionally available in the aquarium trade is the cloudy catshark (Scyliorhinus torazame). This species is native to Japan living in rocky reefs and adapts very well in a home aquarium. Keep the water temperature at about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, make available an efficient chiller.
The popular catshark in Europe is the small-spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula). This species lives in temperate water and grows around 24 inches (60.9 cm) of maximum length for those found from the Mediterranean. As for the individuals that occur around the British Isles, they can reach a length of 3 feet (0.91 m).
Important Note on Keeping a Pet Shark
When you make up your mind to keep a pet shark, know that you will have more options than listed here. Even the ones listed here may not be suitable for all kinds of home aquaria.
Make sure you have a very large tank specially aquascaped for keeping a shark. Do the necessary research and think duly on the species you are planning to bring home.
Nocturnal sharks make the best aquarium sharks. They are not active during the day and only emerge at night to hunt for food. Hence, do not expect them to be swimming around in your aquarium looking threatening.
Avoid very active sharks and sharks that can attain too large sizes. While you may possibly access other sharks more aggressive shark species, try to keep to the ones listed here. Many of the true sharks cannot live an aquarium life, and they can even cause harm to humans.
1. Can I have a shark as a pet?
Yes! You can have a shark as a pet. This page already listed the safest kind of sharks that you can keep in your home aquarium. Just set up the aquarium right and take the necessary precautions.
2. Can I keep a great white shark as a pet?
The answer is simply no! Great white sharks have never been tamed to survive in captivity. As things are, it is unlikely that these sharks will be successfully kept in aquaria. Past attempts to keep this shark species in public aquariums proved futile.
Great white sharks have difficulty navigating aquarium walls; hence they ram the walls of the aquarium when swimming. This can lead to injury on the shark’s part. Another major problem is that these sharks need to continuously swim to breathe.
They are great swimmers and migrate very long distances. Some tagged specimen sometimes ends up on the other side of the world. No aquarium can provide enough swimming space for the great white shark.
These sharks wouldn’t even survive long in an aquarium setting, they usually fail to eat when introduced in a tank. These few factors already make it illogical to consider keeping a great white shark as a pet.
3. Are there freshwater sharks kept as pets?
There are several freshwater sharks kept in the home aquarium as pets. These include fish species from the family of Cyprinidae. They are not “true sharks”, but substitute as one for Aquaria purposes.
This makes sense because their body shape and behavior can be likened to those of true sharks. Before deciding to choose a true as a pet, take a look at the list Freshwater Sharks that are suitable for your home aquarium.
4. Can a shark outgrow its tank?
A shark will not outgrow its tank. Well, not in the sense you think of it. When you introduce a shark into a tank smaller than its adult size, the poor shark will likely experience stunted growth. This means they stop growing.
This can be very stressful for the shark and most of them will die. Shark species that are active and swims most of the time will not even survive long in a confined space due to stress.
5. What is the best shark to have as a pet?
The best shark to have as a pet is one that is most safe to live in your aquarium. Different sharks have different behaviors, that is why it is important to learn about the species you consider keeping as a pet before purchasing. This will make you understand it better and keep a perfect environment for it.
This page contains a list of great pet sharks that you can choose from. The best pet shark for your aquarium may not be the best for another aquarist. Therefore, it all lies on you and your choices!