For most people when they see a shark, they have an instant rush of fear, but not for my father, Andy Allison, Vice President of Living Collections and Education at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa. Andy’s career revolves around showing people animals and showing how they can help animals in the wild, specifically aquatic animals, including sharks. Andy was part of one of the first attempts at captive Blacktip shark reproduction at the Albuquerque Biopark Aquarium in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2008.
“Reproduction with sharks may sound like a simple task, but there are thousands of variables just keeping sharks alive through transportation from the ocean to the aquarium. Reproduction is a whole other level.”
Before the ABQ Biopark Aquarium started Blacktip Shark reproduction, there was very little known about the subject. Not only did breeding Blacktip sharks help biologists understand Blacktip Sharks, but it helped them understand all sharks, which led to breeding research and development of other species.
“Aquariums around the globe are getting more and more serious about captive breeding when it comes to all species, but especially sharks,” Andy says.
Captive breeding has benefits, not only for museums and aquariums but also for the wild sharks and natural habitats. “If we can breed in captivity, that means we don’t need to capture the animals in the wild. A lot of the time capturing the wild sharks is the easy part. It's transporting the animals that is difficult.”
When sharks are captured, they need to be moved into more water immediately. Keeping the water quality and temperature both up to specifications is very important because sharks are very sensitive. It's especially hard because the sharks are caught in the Gulf of Mexico and they need to be transported to the aquariums, which can be over 1000 miles away. The Blacktip Sharks need to be moving to breathe, which means they need a very large volume of water. They also have very sensitive skin, so they can’t run into the sides of tanks, or anything for that matter. The other important thing with Blacktip Sharks is that when they get stressed they produce lactic acid in their muscles which leads to acidosis. Acidosis is a condition in which there is too much acid in the body fluids.
. Aquariums are now able to breed sharks in captivity. Though it is still hard, they are able to do it a lot easier and better than ever before. Shark Reef in Mandalay Bay has been breeding Sandbar sharks every couple of years since the program in Albuquerque started. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago has also been able to breed Blacktip Reef sharks which are different but closely related to Blacktip sharks, as well as Sandbar sharks.