“How do you take care of the sharks?” is one of the most common questions we get at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.
Doing your part to take care of sharks in the wild is an easy thing to do – simply avoid things like shark fin soup, products with shark liver oil (also known as squaline) and support sustainable fisheries.
Taking care of sharks in human care however, is another story.
The sharks that call Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada home are ambassadors for the wild populations that are currently facing human threats, leaving many species on the endangered list.
At the Aquarium, we work hard to keep our sharks happy and healthy. One of the biggest tasks is feeding, of course!
Many people are surprised to hear that sharks generally have a slow metabolism and that we only need to offer food 3 times a week (Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays) to meet their dietary requirements. On average, we aim to deliver about 2% of their body weight per feed. The sharks are fed a variety of restaurant grade seafood such as bonito, herring and squid, along with a specialized shark vitamin.
At feeding time, it takes a minimum of nine staff members to ensure that the sharks, and the other inhabitants in the Dangerous Lagoons, are all well fed.
We have two “broadcast” stations at the surface where the fish are fed a variety of chopped seafood that is scattered in the water. The mix of food usually consists of clam, capelin, krill and marine pellets. This broadcast feed helps to keep them away from the area where the sharks are being fed.
To ensure the “shy” bottom feeder fish are also taken care of, a staff member is responsible for filling a tube system (located behind the scenes) that shoots the food under the water.
During this time, the two green sea turtles are brought into the back acclimation pool to not only keep them away from the sharks, but for a training session and enrichment. Training and enrichment for our green sea turtles is a very important job because it allows us to closely monitor their health on a regular basis. A typical lunch for the turtles consists of romaine lettuce, carrots, sweet potato, green peppers, brussel sprouts and capelin, a small fish. We make sure the sea turtles also get their vitamins, usually hidden in a piece of fish.
Back out in the Lagoon, we have 3 feeding “stations” designated for each species of shark (sand tiger, sandbar and nurse), sawfish and rays.
Each animal has been conditioned (or has learned) to feed at those areas with the use of a coloured target that we put in the water to let them know it is feeding time. As they swim by the station, each individual is offered their lunch at the end of a long feeding pole. Feeding staff are trained to recognize the individuals by their unique notches in their fin and spots on their back. One staff member is responsible for keeping track of how much food each individual is consuming. It takes approximately 30 minutes before the sharks are full and stop coming to their feeding station, which is when we know they are happily fed.
If you are interested in seeing all of this in action, feel free to swim by on a feeding day (times can be found here)! We also have a staff member in the heart of the action in the Dangerous Lagoon tunnel to answer any questions and explain how we tackle this big job of feeding the sharks.
We hope that after your experience with these beautiful creatures, you not only gain a higher appreciation for them, but also become more inspired to protect and educate others about their importance in the wild.