Small Reef Sharks in Aquariums

Have you been hearing a lot of buzz about the sharks off the coast of Cape Cod recently? Well their cartilaginous relatives may not even be that far from your homes! Various species of reef sharks thrive in well sized home and commercial salt water aquariums among their colorful bony-fish comrades that you see in most tanks. Species include the Bamboo Shark, Coral Cat Shark, and Epaulette shark, which can reach lengths of up to 3-4 feet and offer stealthy, acrobatic finesse to their artificial homes. Having firsthand experience as an aquarist at the New England Aquarium working with the Shark & Ray touch tank, these miniature sharks are fascinating to watch snake through the water with their long torsos along the sandy bottom. They are commonly banded with broad stripes or spotted in black (see inset of Epaulette shark). Native to shallow, rather stagnant, warm coral reefs, these species are quite tolerant of low oxygen environments. The Epaulette, for example, has enhanced blood circulation through its gills which helps deliver vital oxygen through its body, especially in the anoxic waters of low tide. They even have the evolutionary advantage of “walking” along the shallow reef bottoms, reminiscent of the way Mudskippers use their front fins to move along mud flats, but far more gracefully! At maximum size, most Coral Cat, Bamboo, or Epaulette sharks could be comfortably housed in a tank of 300-400 gallons. These carnivorous little sharks will feed mainly on worms and crabs, or bite sized diced clam or squid, generally not eating small fish. Aquascaping a tank to decrease wobbly rock pilings while providing stable ledges and caverns to rest and search for food would be best for these amazing little sharks!