On Wednesday, November 8, 2018, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada welcomed its newest resident: a 6-foot-long, adult male sandbar shark!
But how did we get a 2-metre-long shark into the building, you might ask?
The same way all of our large animals get here. The answer involves a truck (with its own life support system etc.), a crane and the coordination and hard work of our entire husbandry team, in charge of animal care.
Prior to his arrival our sandbar shark was living at the Ripley’s Aquarium holding facility in Buffalo, New York. This facility is a fully-operational aquarium staffed by full-time aquarists (aquarists are aquarium biologists, the team responsible for feeding and caring for our animals), where our animals are cared for while they grow or undergo a period of quarantine before being transported to their final destination at one of our three aquariums.
On that momentous Wednesday, our sandbar shark was loaded from his habitat at the holding facility into a tank on the back of a special Ripley’s moving truck. This mobile tank was not only large enough for him to swim around in during transportation, but was also fully equipped with a life-support system, including huge cylindrical oxygen tanks. Sandbar sharks are obligate ram ventilators, meaning that they push oxygenated water through their mouths and over their gills via the action of swimming in order to breathe. So making sure that our sandbar shark had room to swim in his mobile tank for the duration of the drive from Buffalo to Toronto was important!
After a brief holdup in traffic on Spadina Avenue (have you ever heard of a shark stuck in traffic on Spadina before?), the truck carrying our shark arrived in the early afternoon. Almost our entire husbandry team, including our veterinarian, was on-site and waiting eagerly for his arrival.
When the truck backed into the loading dock at the back of the building, they sprang into action removing the lid and layers covering the shark’s tank. If you have owned a fish before you probably know that once they arrive home, you need to slowly introduce them to their new habitat. The same was done for our new sandbar shark, whereby water from the transport tank was slowly exchanged with water from our Dangerous Lagoon exhibit.
This process took nearly two hours, but when the time came to move him from the truck into the aquarium, the husbandry team had to act quickly.
The shark was safely secured into a body-length net, which was then lifted out of the water by a crane system built into the ceiling of the loading dock and husbandry hallway behind-the-scenes here at the aquarium. From the moment our shark left the water, the aquarists set timers to ensure that he wasn’t out for more than 1 minute. The husbandry team slowly guided him off of the truck and into a waiting mobile tank, already filled with water from the Dangerous Lagoon. He was out of the water for just over 30 seconds.
The new tank, now containing our shark, still in the full-body sling net, was secured to the crane system, and then it was off, being slowly guided down the hallway to the acclimation pool, which feeds directly into the Lagoon.
The timers started again as he was lifted out of the mobile tank, and into the acclimation pool. Still in his net, the team set about measuring his length and width, and our veterinarian worked to collect a blood sample.
As the team approached the fifteen-minute mark from the time the shark left the truck – the maximum amount of time our shark could stay in his net – everyone backed away and set him loose in the acclimation pool.
He swam around and around, getting his bearings, and then, just an hour later, watched by our husbandry team and guests alike, he swam out into the Dangerous Lagoon for the first time.
His arrival was met with curiosity from his new neighbours – his every move followed by our school of yellow snappers – but he was soon accepted into the fold, and our smaller male sandbar shark began to swim with him.
The husbandry team congratulated one another on a job well done, and our team from Buffalo got back on the road.
Since his arrival, our newest shark has done just swimmingly (pardon the pun) in his new environment. His journey might have been a long and exciting one, but now he’s home, and we couldn’t be happier.