Sea World Top 5: Training Sharks

Shannon Vertigo

It’s #SharkWeek! You know what that means… time to train some sharks! Well, not us. We won’t be training any sharks now or EVER, but our favorite trainer-in-training, Kailyn, might! (She loves orcas, but still!)

Below, our friends Shannon and Vertigo at Sea World share with us their Top 5 Things to Know About Training Sharks. Before we grab our wetsuits and dive in, we wanted to find out more about them.

Why are they always staring at us? (They’re predators who prefer seafood, not humans.)

What’s up with all the teeth? (More than one row – yikes!)

Do sharks sing underwater karaoke? (Doubtful but they can dance! Kind of.)

Where to start?! We consulted seaworld.org, where we found a ton of resources for the classroom and teachers, animal enthusiasts, conservationists and more. We immediately noticed a trend…

Did you know? Sharks have FIVE fins!

  • Caudal (aka: the tail, aids in forward movement)
  • Pectoral (two fins near front, gives a lift while swimming)
  • Dorsal (two, on a shark’s back: think JAWS)
  • Anal (small, near tail)
  • Pelvic (another pair, under shark)
  • Bonus: Clasper (only on male sharks, near pelvic fins)

Even though they ARE in fact fish, don’t call a shark “a fish” to their face. (We’re told they get… testy.)

Top 5 Shark

 

Wonder if the dinosaurs called them that? Yes, some families of shark were around back when, and they don’t look a day over 65 million 21 years old.

All of you diehard (no puns!) finheads out there might want to check out The American Elasmobranch Society. They are a non-profit organization that seeks to advance the scientific study of living and fossil sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras, and the promotion of education, conservation, and wise utilization of natural resources.

Shannon Zimmerman, an Aquarium Supervisor at Discovery Cove, shares, “Training these sharks allows us to get very hands on with these animals, allowing us to build relationships with them that can be just as enriching to them as it is to us.

Here are Sea World’s Top 5 Things to Know About Training Sharks:

Did you know it’s possible to train sharks?  The expert aquarists at SeaWorld and Discovery Cove in Orlando have done just that. They have learned that sharks have unique behavioral traits and that training them takes patience.  Training allows veterinarians and aquarists to provide hands-on care to the animals and also enables guests to interact with the sharks up close. 

Our aquarists share the top five facts they’ve learned in training sharks:

  1. It takes time. Training a shark takes a great deal of patience.  Aquarists use positive reinforcement only, including treats such as trout, salmon and clams.  But because sharks are cold-blooded and some can be sedentary, they don’t eat much…or often. So, opportunities to reinforce them with food occur much less frequently than with other animals.     
  2. They can train to targets.  Aquarists use a technique called “target training” to train sharks to follow a target.  This allows the aquarists to direct animals to key locations in their environment.  The team can then interact with the sharks to monitor their health and also provide guests a closer look.  
  3. They play favorites.  Our aquarists have found each shark responds differently to training. Some sharks are very relaxed when held a certain way, and some sharks show a preference for certain aquarists.
  4. They can be picky eaters.  Sharks tend to be finicky about their food, which affects the way the animals interact during a training session. Sharks have individually discerning tastes. Some gobble up salmon and trout, but take a pass on squid and mackerel.
  5. Personalities come into play. Aquarists see personality traits heighten during training sessions.  For example, male zebra sharks have been known to compete with one another for the aquarist’s attention.  If one is interacting with the aquarist, others are likely to swim over and push their way in. Blacktip and whitetip sharks are especially playful and curious, and like to move around and dig in the sand in their environments. Some even like sand sprinkled on their backs.  

Shark expert Shannon Zimmerman talks about what it’s like to train a shark here.