Friday, December 28, 2012

The Perfect Pet?

There is a growing trend out there and it involves pets. No it does not involve dogs and cats. It does not involve reptiles or birds. It does not involve insects. It does not involve mammals. It does involve fish. In fact it involves a certain type of fish. This type of fish is commonly known as the shark. The growing trend is people trying to keep sharks as pets. You might recall walking into your local pet store and seeing some small fresh water fish labeled as sharks, such as the iridescent shark, but in reality these animals are not sharks and are not the animals this blog is going to be about. The animals I am referring to are large species of shark that are found in the Ocean. Some of the most common species of large shark that people keep as pets are... Get ready for this... Blacktip reef sharks, lemon sharks, hammerhead sharks, nurse sharks, and the bull shark. So the point of this blog is really going to by why each and every one of these sharks are by far the worst pets in the world and should never, ever be a part of a household aquarium. First though, I will list some species of shark that people do keep as pets with success. As you may expect, these are small species of shark.

Two of the most popular are these guys, the brownbanded and whitespotted bamboo sharks.

          

Both of these sharks are naturally small, growing to be between 3 and 3 and a half feet.They are both bottom dwelling sharks that feed largely on shellfish. Their teeth are flattened and designed to crush shells rather than tear flesh from fish. They are not aggressive at all and spend most of their time resting on the Ocean floor. This makes them a favorite among those who decide to keep sharks as pets. Another small species of shark that is a favorite among many people is the epaulette shark.

Much like the bamboo sharks, these sharks are bottom dwelling sharks. They grow to be about 3.3 feet in length and feed mostly on shellfish. As with the bamboo sharks, this species of shark is not aggressive at all.

Those are probably the top three of the popular small sharks that people keep as pets. Despite not even being four feet long, all of these sharks still require large tanks as at night they can be active swimmers. Despite not normally eating bony fish, these sharks are still capable of eating small fish and will do so if they are not fed enough. Personally, I do not think any species of shark should be a pet. If I had my way, it would be illegal to own a true shark. However, this is not the case, and some people do enjoy having sharks as pets. If you feel the need to own a shark, these three species are probably your best bet. Now lets move onto the not so good, but very popular choices.

The first shark that a lot of people try to keep in their household aquariums is the blacktip reef shark.

Commonly confused for the blacktip shark, the blacktip reef shark is not as large as it's cousin. However, this shark can still reach lengths over 5 feet. They are fierce night time hunters and must swim in order to breathe. What this means is that even as babies, blacktip reef sharks require a ton of swimming space. They must be kept in almost a constantly lighted tank or they will start to feed themselves with the other fish in the tank. Many times people do buy these sharks as babies, when they are roughly 16 inches long. They have no clue how big they get and then all of a sudden they are dealing with a 5 foot long shark and an aquarium that cannot support it. Often times, these sharks wind up being donated to Aquariums or being released into the Ocean. Either way, these sharks often run into problems. In the wild, the young sharks are not accustomed to having to feed itself as they do eventually associate people with food. They run a greater risk of being killed by fisherman or accidentally biting a swimmer to try and get it's attention to feed it.

Compared to the other sharks, the blacktip reef shark is somewhat small. The next shark is the lemon shark.

This one hits a little closer to home for me. I actually had the privilege of working with the beautiful shark in the above picture. When lemon sharks are born, they are very small. In fact, some are born at roughly 1.5 feet in length. That is a tiny little shark. This is when people buy them and think they just got a great pet. This species of shark can grow to be over 10 feet in length. Generally speaking, this makes them far too big to be kept in a household aquarium. Even at a young age, lemon sharks can be very aggressive and will not hesitate to bite fish that are both smaller and larger than itself. While in captivity these sharks appear to develop some form of neurological issue that sees them lying on their back convulsing as if they were having a seizure. The sheer size of this shark should be enough to deter people from trying to keep this animal as a pet, but alas it does not. Seeing a lemon shark having to live in an Aquarium is heartbreaking to say the least as this animal really does not do all that well in captivity, but once it lives in a household aquarium and develops that neurological issue, it in all probability would never survive in the wild. As mentioned at the start of this little section, I worked with this specific shark. I can tell all of you that she is doing very well in her new home. However, her place should never have been in an aquarium, let alone a sporting goods store.

Next is a shark that isn't really that aggressive, but gets very large. That would be the nurse shark.

The nurse shark starts out small, roughly 1 foot in length. The perfect length for many household aquariums. What people do not realize is that nurse sharks grow to be 14 feet long. Much like the lemon shark, this puts it way out of the range of the household aquariums. They are nowhere near as aggressive as lemon or blacktip reef sharks as they are bottom dwelling sharks, similar to the small bamboo sharks. Just like the bamboo sharks, this shark will usually eat shellfish. However, this shark will also make a meal out of small bottom dwelling fish as well. Despite being such popular pets, the nurse shark really has no place in a household aquarium. They grow to be far too large and people who keep them, subject them to growth issues and other physical and mental problems that come as a result of being kept in such a small environment.

The next two sharks blow my mind that people even try to keep them as pets. They are the hammerhead and bull sharks.
          
All right, here we go. First of all, all three species of hammerhead sharks are endangered species. In order to have one as a pet, you are supposed to have special permits, same goes for the bull shark despite it not yet being an endangered species. As with most things though involving pets that people really shouldn't have, people tend to ignore the rules. (Example: Keeping alligators as pets in New Jersey) Hammerheads (with the exception of the smaller bonnethead) start their lives at a cute little 1.6 feet or so. Similar to the lemon shark, they grow to be about 10 feet in length (except the bonnethead that gets to be between 5 and 6 feet). Their hammer shaped heads are even more sensitive than those of the other sharks mentioned. That being said, it is highly suggested that hammerheads are not kept in square tanks. If you ever happen to see a hammerhead, or bonnethead for that matter in a public aquarium, take note of the tank it is kept in. Chances are it is a rounded tank with no true corners. For some reason, corners seem to through the senses of a hammerhead into a spin. This makes keeping them as a pet that much more difficult as the majority of household tanks are square. They can be quite aggressive and their size easily complicates keeping them as pets. Hammerheads are constantly on the move, so they require a ton of space to swim.
The same can be said for the bull shark. They are highly migratory, which means they are constantly on the move. In the case of the bull shark, there is a certain appeal to having one of the Ocean's apex predators living in a person's house. Bull sharks, at birth, are around 2.5 feet in length. Just like the other sharks I've mentioned, the bull shark gets quite large, maxing out at around 8 feet. As with the other sharks, this makes it very hard to house them. They are also the most aggressive shark in the Ocean so it really goes without saying that anything living in an aquarium with them is basically free game.

As i mentioned earlier, I do not think any species of shark should be allowed to be kept in a household aquarium. At this point I also feel that any species of shark that does not breed in captivity should not be in captivity. As amazing as it is to work with sharks, so many of them are threatened with extinction that taking even one out of the Ocean can really affect their numbers. However, for a species that breeds in captivity, I see no reason for them not to be ambassadors of their species. My stance on captivity has been posted in several blogs, so I am not going to go into detail about it here. So, in conclusion, if you absolutely HAVE to have a shark as a pet, go for one of the smaller species I mentioned. Remember though, a shark is a shark, even though it may not be aggressive, it is still higher on the food chain than the other fish in your tank. I'm sure you can figure out the rest. Also, if you HAVE to have a shark as a pet. Do yourself, the sharks, Aquariums, and the Oceans a huge favor. DO NOT PURCHASE ANY SPECIES OF SHARK WITHOUT DOING YOUR HOMEWORK ON IT FIRST!!!!!! Thank you all and have a Happy New Year!!!!!!!    


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