This past Sunday, in the final episode of Aquarium: An Aquatic life, which forms part of the M-NET channel 101 series The Wild Ones, viewers were treated to an adventure of shark proportions.
The episode followed the Two Oceans Aquarium’s collections team as they collected, cared for, transported and ultimately brought several large ragged-tooth sharks back to the Aquarium, and introduced them into the newly renovated Predator Exhibit. While these are the largest sharks on display in the Aquarium, we also have a number of smaller shark species. Here are some shark species you can see at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
The Predator Exhibit with its two million litres of water is where we currently house four ragged-tooth sharks. We’ve had large ragged-tooth sharks at the Aquarium since our opening in 1995. In 2004, the Aquarium started a shark release programme. Our large sharks do not stay indefinitely, and when released, they are tagged in order for them to contribute to scientific research about sharks in South African waters. The first shark to have been released was Maxine. Her release was followed by a steady stream of shark releases. Ragged-tooth sharks are so called - because have you seen their teeth? These sharks lose two to three teeth a day. The ones lost, are replaced with brand new ones! Not necessarily a dentist’s dream patient…
So much confusion! These fish are not cats - they are indeed sharks. They come in “pyjama” and “leopard” varieties and like these names suggest, they dress accordingly. The pyjama catshark has a dapper attire of pyjama stripes while the leopard catshark has opted for a mottled and spotted look. Both enjoy a fine-dining menu of small fish and octopus.
There is no confusion when it comes to shysharks! These little guys are in fact quite shy and yes, they are sharks. Unlike their terrestrial counterpart, the ostrich - which is rumoured to stick its head in the sand, the shyshark’s story of shyness is in fact, true. When these guys are startled, they wrap themselves into circles, and cover their eyes with their tails. Here at the Aquarium you might see dark shysharks and puffadder shysharks.
Spotted gully shark
These sharks are indeed spotted. Actually, they start off with small spots, which become larger and more pronounced as they grow older. We can only speculate why they are called gully sharks. It must be because they are often found in gullies in the ocean, because the alternative is that they are avid cricket players* – something we were unable to verify, but highly doubt. If they were cricket players, they would be playing for the Proteas, because these sharks are endemic and can only be found around our coast.
Mermaid’s purses don’t hold any money, but in the greater scheme of things, they actually hold something a lot more valuable. They are the egg cases of sharks, rays and skates and contain developing embryos. They come in various shapes, sizes and colours. When you visit the Aquarium, pop in at the Microscope Exhibit. There you will find a lovely backlit display of small mermaid’s purses. If you keep a close eye on the egg cases you will see the little sharks moving around in their protective “shells”.
Confusion seems to reign when it comes to giant guitarfish. Not only are they not musical instruments, or even in any band for that matter, they are not bony fish, but have cartilaginous skeletons, just like sharks. These slow-growing fish can reach 3m in length. Around South Africa these fish give live birth (ovoviviparous) to litters of 4 to 10 pups during the summer. Their fins are highly sought after for shark fin soup.