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How to feed a shark

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is currently home to nine species of sharks. They live among sea turtles, eagle rays and dozens of fish. The aquarists in both the Pacific Seas Aquarium and the South Pacific Aquarium have a unique way of feeding the sharks to ensure each one receives the food it needs to thrive.

feeding a shark
Aquarist Melissa Bishop target feeds a shark

“We don’t want the sharks or other animals to compete for food, so we’ve target-trained them,” said staff biologist Melissa Bishop.

Target training is a technique used by aquariums around the world. Animals learn if they go to a certain feeding pole in the water, or designated area in the water, they will receive a food reward.

“If we didn’t do this, the smallest shark would be out-competed for food,” said Bishop. “This also allows us to keep track of how many pieces of food each shark gets, and guarantees they are getting their proper vitamins and supplements.”

Because the aquarists can ensure each shark is left full, the sharks are less likely to follow their natural instincts and eat their roommates, the other fish they share their aquarium with. To quote the movie “Finding Nemo”, “fish are friends, not food.”

The sharks can find their individual targets to get food, based on its shape, contrast and smell.

The sea turtles and eagle rays are also target trained to ensure they get their proper amount of food without interference from the others. The sea turtles see color well, therefore they each have their own colored target. Aquarists use audio, like the clanking together of tongs or a shaker, to signal to the eagle rays that it’s their time to eat.

shark being fed
Animals learn if they go to a certain feeding pole in the water they will receive a food reward.

Come visit the sharks

There are seven species in the South Pacific Aquarium: nurse sharks, sand tiger shark, sandbar sharks, blacktip reef shark, zebra shark, epaulette sharks and bamboo sharks.

There are two species in the Pacific Seas Aquarium: scalloped hammerheads and leopard sharks.

Help save sharks

Many sharks are endangered around the world, with declining populations due to overfishing and finning. You can help by never buying shark fin soup, pills or souvenirs. Visit the Seafood Watch website to support sustainable fishing, and tell your representatives in Congress that you want strong federal shark protection laws. Learn more here.