Pet Sharks In An Aquarium: Is This A Good Idea?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: June 23, 2022
Image Credit Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com
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Having friends over and showing off a massive aquarium with a few pet sharks inside may make you appear cool and awe-striking, but is it a good idea? And no, we’re not talking about the odds of the shark breaking out of the aquarium (although that can happen), but about the legality of owning a pet shark. Believe it or not, sharks are legal to keep as pets – but not all of them. Is a great white shark a good idea for a pet? Of course not! Only the most docile species are allowed to be kept as pets, not to mention small to average in size that can surely fit inside a medium-sized aquarium.

Furthermore, you are not the only individual who may be harmed if you keep illegal sharks as pets – the shark can suffer too. Most shark species were observed to eat less and act less lively when in captivity, so make sure you are not trying to break any law before venturing into the idea of a shark aquarium (or sharkquarium!). So, is having sharks as pets in an aquarium a good idea? And what types of sharks can be good as pets? That’s what we are going to find out in this article. 

Can You Keep Sharks as Pets?

Some sharks can be kept as pets.

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The quick and simple answer is yes, specific shark species can be kept as pets. However, out of around 500 species of sharks, only a few of them can be taken home and inside aquariums. In addition, only a few shark species can thrive in captivity, and most of them die shortly after being encapsulated. Some shark species can be kept as pets in aquariums or touch tanks, but it is better to leave them in the wild.

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In public aquariums, some shark species are kept in captivity. Because of the size limits in home aquariums, only the tiniest sharks can be kept as pets. Animal protection laws are in place to safeguard both animals and the environment, and you should be aware of them before bringing an exotic animal into your home. Only a few benthic shark species, such as leopard sharks, catsharks, horn sharks, and zebra sharks, had previously lasted for a year or longer in aquarium conditions. A few attempts have been tried to keep a great white shark in captivity, but most specimens have died or had to be returned to the ocean after a short time.

While keeping any shark species as an aquarium pet is not recommended, people who can afford very big tanks and supplies do so. They keep sharks like the well-known catsharks, wobbegongs, epaulette sharks, and a few more real shark species. It’s worth noting that some of these sharks grow to be enormous and would fit in no tank as adults. True sharks as pets are not popular in most regions and are illegal. In locations like California, however, keeping some species of real sharks is legal and, in fact, a status symbol.

There aren’t many places where you can purchase a real shark. If you’re serious about getting a pet shark, be prepared to spend a lot of money. The minimum size for a shark tank is determined by the type of shark you intend to keep. 

Do Sharks Last in Captivity?

leopard shark
Sharks do not do as well in captivity as they do in their natural habitat.

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Generally, various shark species all have different lifespans. However, it has been studied that sharks do not do as well in captivity as they do in their natural habitat. Sharks captured inside public aquariums or home tanks have been observed to have shorter lives than others in the wild. 

A theme park in Orlando, Florida is said to have attempted to display two wild-caught shortfin mako sharks at their Shark Encounter Exhibit in 1978. The animals were said to have died within days of dashing into the enclosure’s walls. In 2017, a great white shark also perished in a Japanese aquarium after only three days. Sharks, it appears, do not thrive in tanks.

Sharks in the wild can move up to 45 miles per day (and some species must swim continuously to breathe), but sharks in captivity swim in circles, and some suffer nose injuries from rubbing against the sides of the tanks. Sharks in captivity may also be counterproductive to conservation efforts. Seeing animals in unnatural surroundings that deteriorate and exploit them educates the public that they are ours to control. It provides people with the false illusion that the species prosper in the wild and that removing them from their native home is appropriate. There have also been many cases of sharks and rays dying due to simple technical faults. Furthermore, because many sharks are inherently shy, allowing strange, loud youngsters and adults to intrude on their personal space will undoubtedly disturb them.

What Sharks Are Good as Pets?

As mentioned, only a few species of true sharks are legal to be kept as pets and put in tanks or public aquariums. If you are thinking of getting one, you must first be completely knowledgeable about the shark you will get and their needs. Keep in mind that these creatures wouldn’t thrive in an unnatural environment, so you will be the one to help them thrive. Here are some of the most common shark species kept as pets:

1. Wobbegong

Funny Animal Names
Tasseled wobbegongs are ambush predators who prey on schools of fish and can attack humans unprovoked.

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Aside from having the craziest name, this shark is a wonderful choice for a home aquarium – but only if you buy the right kind. Most of the large species in this family can reach up to ten feet! The wobbegong, which can be found off the coastlines of Australia and Indonesia, is a true member of the carpet shark family. If you wish to keep a little wobbegong as a pet, the tasseled wobbegong and Ward’s wobbegong are the finest options. The wobbegong’s metabolism is also slow and it prefers to spend most of its time at the bottom of its tank, making it a low-maintenance pet shark.

2. Bamboo Shark

White Spotted Bamboo Shark
The bamboo shark is one of the cutest sharks at sea and the nicest ones to keep as pets.

iStock.com/Josephine Julian

Because of its small size and bi-colored body, the bamboo shark is one of the cutest sharks at sea and the nicest ones to keep as pets. The bamboo shark is a beautiful carpet shark popular as an aquarium pet due to its small size of 48 inches. They are relatively easy to keep once an aquarium has been set up for them. With a life expectancy of 25 years, the brown-banded bamboo shark makes a great human companion. Bamboo sharks can be found in the coastal seas of Southeast Asia and the Australian continent. And while they have never harmed humans, they are great hunters. Divers have been known to stroke and pet bamboo sharks because they are so peaceful. Bamboo sharks are often used in “touch tanks” in public aquariums to educate visitors about them and other aquatic life.

3. Epaulette Shark

Shark that Walks on Land - Epaulette Shark

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The epaulette shark is the most popular of all shark pets for all the right reasons. It’s dashing, smooth, slender, and quick-moving, with two large dark patches above its pectoral fins that resemble fancy epaulettes on military uniforms, hence its peculiar name. The epaulette is an Australian shark that makes a great pet shark because, unlike most sharks, it prefers restricted spaces, which gives a sense of security.

They grow between 27 and 35 inches long, with a maximum length of 42 inches, and live for 20 to 25 years. They’re slim and flat rather than deep, providing more surface area to contact ground objects. They can be found on Australia’s northern coasts and the coasts of Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. The epaulette shark’s ability to walk on land is one of its most remarkable characteristics. When they become trapped on land, usually owing to the tide moving out, they have the rare ability to use their pectoral and pelvic fins as legs and feet.

4. Coral Catshark

Shark Eyes: Coral Cat Shark
The coral catshark can be kept as an adult in a 300 to 350-gallon aquarium, with a 450-gallon tank being optimal.

iStock.com/Velvetfish

Catsharks are interesting and lovely pets rarely seen in aquariums at home. There is a wide range of species among them, giving you plenty of options. They are large saltwater fish that will require special attention, even though they are disease-free. The coral catshark can be kept as an adult in a 300 to 350-gallon aquarium, with a 450-gallon tank being optimal. Its normal adult length is 24 inches (28 inches maximum). Based on where you live, purchasing one can be difficult. They can be ordered online in the United States. Because of their size, finding them at a store is more difficult.

5. Blacktip Reef Sharks

The blacktip reef shark can grow up to 60 inches long.

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Blacktip and whitetip reef sharks do not perform well in captivity, but if you insist on owning one, you’ll need a very large tank with round ends. These sharks, which may grow to be 48 to 60 inches long and can be kept with various reef fish as long as they are well-fed, can be kept in a 1,000-gallon tank. You’ll also need to study what to feed them and how often they should be provided because they can be overfed. You should also consider iron and iodine doses, as they require these nutrients for growth.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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