While many aquariums across the country have healthy co-working relationships when it comes to animal care, exchanging animals, or simply keeping up with what's new, there is a bit of competitive rivalry that fuels their desire to distinguish one institution from another. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, where I had offered my services as a dive team leader for over 8 years, has had several milestones to distinguish itself: first successful breeding of Leafy Seadragons, successful surgery and rehabilitation on a Sawfish's broken saw, a Bull Shark on public display, and many more.
They are adding one more to that list, with one of the few Tiger Sharks to be on display in North America. Now, I had known for a while that the Aquarium had a tiger shark in holding, but was sworn to secrecy by my friend, Steve Blair, assistant curator and featured in my documentary, Island of the Great White Shark. New animals at the Aquarium go through an obligatory quarantine period and a ground-breaking specimen like a tiger shark would get special attention to insure that it is feeding and behaving normally.
As a recent article in the Los Angeles Times pointed out, getting the animal to that predictable state can be challenging. And then acclimating the animal with the rest of the animals in the exhibit - in this case, the Aquarium's Shark Lagoon exhibit where there are sand tigers, black tip reef, white tip, sand bar, nurse, and zebra sharks, not to mention large rays and a sawfish - can require a careful step by step process.
Even though a tiger shark would represent a major "big cheese" in the exhibit, there is equal if not greater concern regarding the established animals picking on or harassing their new neighbor. Once the pecking order is established then tables might turn and it becomes necessary to watch that larger or more dominant sharks, no matter how new, may begin to assert themselves.
The tiger shark is an absolutely gorgeous animal, particularly with younger specimens where the "tiger stripes" are so prominent. I have had the opportunity to see these animals in the wild and they are indeed a wonderful example of oceanic beauty and grace. Let's wish the Aquarium of the Pacific well and hope that having this particular animal on display - one considered to be a member of the four most dangerous sharks - will provide an opportunity for visitors to see and better appreciate a critically important ocean predator.
Read Los Angeles Times article. Visit Aquarium of the Pacific web site.