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Sharks : 

How to setup a Shark Aquarium : 


So you just got done watching “Tanked” on the Animal Planet and now you just have to have a Shark Aquarium. Well that or you’ve wanted one for a long time, you wondered how hard it actually is and searched or you just saw one for the first time and just have to have one. Either way, I am here to help by giving you the rundown on what you’ll need to setup a proper shark aquarium and what kind of sharks you should and should NOT purchase for a home aquarium.



Imagine having this size Shark Tank in your Living Room. This tank is at the Atlantis Aquarium, in the Bahamas. 


For starters you’re going to need an Aquarium, and if you bought it at any normal store or basic pet store I will start right now by saying, sorry, it’s not gonna be big enough. Well that is unless you happen to be able to buy 6′x2′ 180 gallon aquariums at the corner store. As that is about the minimum size I’d suggest anyone start with who wants to keep Sharks in a home aquarium. Depending on the type of Shark you want that 180g tank may not last long at all before it outgrows it. Bigger is certainly recommended, with something like 8′x4′x2′ being more ideal for many of the smaller species as a long term home. That is a 480 gallon aquarium, which bought new will cost nearly as much as a new car. So if you’re on a budget you’re gonna need to find some good deals on used tanks. However if you’re that limited on the budget and even a used big tank is out of reach, then I am sorry to inform you that owning a shark probably is too. As the cost to keep a Shark tank running is not cheap at all and that is not even considering the price of the tank itself and all the stuff you need to set it up right, which we’ll be going over shortly. Also note, you’re going to need to run a sump system so the tank will need to have drains installed into it or already have them. You can run the return lines over the back if need be or drill them too for a cleaner look.


So now we’ll assume you’ve got yourself an Aquarium, along with an appropriate stand. Each gallon of water weighs 8lbs, so even if you get the minimum 180 gallon aquarium I suggest above it’s going to weigh in at nearly or over 2,000lbs once you add the weight of the tank itself, rocks, and so on. So you need a quality stand, do not skimp here. It doesn’t have to look nice, well depending where you are putting the tank it may need to look nice but that is up to you. The main point is that it needs to be strong above all else.


So now you’ve got a tank and stand, you think you’re ready to go? Not even close. I unfortunately will not be able to go over every single detail of setting up a saltwater tank in this post but if you don’t understand certain things or steps, let me know in the comments and I can write an article to explain or link you to one. Along with the tank and stand this is a list of things (in no specific order since you need it all) you’ll need to have a properly setup Shark Aquarium in your home or business.


The Shark Aquarium Essentials List: 


  • Filter/Protein Skimmer – To clean and filter the water, simply put. The “filter” will actually be live rock for the most part, put it in the tank and sump, the rock in the tank should be smooth if possible. Using jagged or sharp rock inside the tank itself can injure the shark if it darts across the tank quickly and hits the rock. For a Shark tank I suggest as big of a sump as you can possibly fit this way you can cram it full of live rock. You’ll also want a big skimmer, rated for well over the actual gallons of your tank since your bio load will be large. You’ll empty the skimmer every other day or so, depending how much skimmate it produces. This stuff will smell like death and garbage, all rolled up into one

  • Pumps/Powerheads – To move the water inside the tank as well as lift it back up to the tank from the sump, a lot of turnover is suggested. Now, I don’t think the bottom dwelling sharks will appreciate living in a rapids so be reasonable but you do want good water movement.

  • Salt – A crap load of it. You’ll need a few buckets to start with, then more each time you do water changes. The 5 gallon bucket of salt sitting in my garage makes 150g of Saltwater if I recall correctly and was around $75. This isn’t your average table salt here folks.


  • RODI System – You’ll need this to make new freshwater, unless your tap water is PERFECT and trust me, it isn’t. You’ll add the salt to this water to make new, perfect saltwater. These systems can be built or bought and come in very basic forms and very advance forms, much like anything. RODI = Reverse Osmosis De-Ionization


  • Lights – Nothing really special needed for a Shark only tank but you gotta be able to see it, right? Any standard Saltwater type bulbs will give you that “blue” look as most are 50/50 style bulbs with a 10k element and an Actinic element. The Actinic portion of the bulb is what gives off the “blue” color. I highly suggest checking out the new LED systems offered by some companies. They use way less power and the LED’s can last much longer. The Shimmer effect from the LED’s is also extremely appealing.


  • Sand/Rock – You need live rock in a Saltwater tank, it helps filter the water and keep everything balanced. You also need some sand for the bottom of the tank. Some people argue it’s benefits but at the end of the day, the ocean is a sandy bottom and we try to recreate nature as best as possible for our finned friends. Some will say you don’t need live rock either, and well, there are ways around it but to me, why bother. It is more natural and looks good.

  • A lot of good, fresh food – Sharks don’t eat goldfish flakes, OR GOLDFISH FOR THAT MATTER. They need Shrimp (not cooked, well it can be but it may lose some nutritional value so I stick with raw if possible), Squid, Smelt, Crabs, Scallops, Fish pieces (or whole small fish) and so on. Any natural live (or dead) prey item is great. Keep it varied and keep it fresh. Do not feed your Shark live Goldfish or Rosy Red Minnows, neither are a natural item and not really beneficial to them and can possibly be detrimental to their health. If you want to feed them live to watch the show just buy some live Shrimp. As you can see, your Shark will be eating better than you.

  • Heater/Chiller – The tank needs to maintain proper temperatures, depending on your home you may need a heater or chiller or in some cases, both. These items will both draw a ton of power, so try to insulate the tank if possible or put in a room with steady temperature to keep costs lower.

  • Water monitoring and Testing equipment – From the basic thermometer, water testing kit, and salinity meter (get a refractometer, not a cheap in tank type) to a full blown PC based system that monitors all water parameters via sensors and probes. Obviously the more advanced the better here, but the basics can still get the job done.

  • Water changing and mixing equipment – With a large tank, it requires large water changes. So you’ll need other tanks (Rubbermaid Stock Tanks work great) to store your RODI water in. You’ll need a pump in this to keep the water moving as well as mix the salt in thoroughly along with a heater to match the tanks temp.

  • Auto Top off System – When water evaporates from your tank the salt does NOT go with it. So the salinity rises as the water evaporates, you do not want this. Therefore you can either buy or build a system that tops off with FRESHWATER (Not Saltwater) to replace the freshwater that evaporates. This is usually done with a float and pump, when the float lowers, it triggers the pump. Once full, the float lifts and the pump shuts off. You can place the auto top off pump in your RODI storage tank, as this is the water you’ll want to top off with. But make sure it’s only freshwater, topping off with saltwater will only raise the salinity even more.

  • Backup Generator – This is optional but highly recommended. If the power is out for an extended time, you can lose everything. Simple as that.

  • Time – Do not forget to think about how much time this will take to not only properly setup, but to maintain. Do you have hours to spare a week.


Make sure before you begin that you’re putting the tank somewhere that can handle it. The best being a concrete slab, be it a ranch or slab in the basement. If you want to put it upstairs make sure your floor can handle it. Fulled loaded aquariums that are big enough for Sharks are as heavy as cars. Typically sitting on a 12-26 sq/ft space on your floor. Depending on your stands dimensions. If you put it on the main floor and have a basement or crawl space you may need to add extra supper to handle the weight. I am not a builder so I can’t really consult on the specifics but I know it’s not difficult in most cases. It is typically just a matter of adding some type of base and a couple support posts usually. One extremely large post may also suffice if the load isn’t that great as well.


Once you’re sure you can set it up in your chosen location make sure you’ve got power, water, and drains easily accessible. If not, consider adding them or choosing another location. You’ll need all of these things on a more or less constant basis. If you live somewhere that has a septic tank DO NOT dump your old saltwater down your drain though. It is bad to dump saltwater in a septic system as it will harm or kill the beneficial bacteria that break down all the nasties and keep your septic tank from overflowing. So you’ll need to drain it somewhere on your property that will not be affected. Once you’ve got all those essentials covered and can setup your tank somewhere with all the stuff you’ll need put your stand in place. Stick a level on it and make sure it’s level, if not add the shims needed to get it level. If your tank is Acrylic lay down some foam for good measure, unless your stand is really flat and perfectly clean then may omit it if you wish. It’s not going to hurt anything though so you may as well for insulations purposes if anything. I use 3/4″ foam as the thinner stuff will can compress under the load of a large tank. If it is a glass tank you can just set it down on the plastic frame. If it is a frameless tank then do whatever the manufacturer of that specific tank suggests, as they can sometimes suggest different things.

Once you’ve got the tank on the stand you are ready to get started on installing all the good stuff. You need water before you can do anything. So you’ll want to connect your RODI system as referenced in Part 1. All of them setup differently but unless you make it from scratch it will come with instructions, so just follow them. Note that unless you got a zero waste system you’ll need to have a spot to drain the water that didn’t make it. RODI systems have 2 outlets, the clean water you want as well as waste water. You can drain this to anywhere but a nearby garden or tree is a fine place if you can, especially if you live in a dry climate. Once you’ve got your RODI system setup you’ll almost be ready to fill your tank up. If you have your water storing tank already, which you should. You can start filling it up and getting it warmed up. As well as mixing in some salt per that manufacturers directions to achieve a 1.022 – 1.026 specific gravity. You can do research on specific gravity and what keeping it slightly lower or higher can do. I personally go for 1.025. I am not an expert on Sharks to the point I can name the specific gravity for every Shark so make sure to research the location of the specific Shark you choose. Some Oceans have much higher or lower salt contents and you want to match the original location of your Shark as much as possible.



Nurse Sharks require extremely large tanks, so if you want one you’ll need a Monster Aquarium.

You’re gonna want to setup your sump system at this point as well as all the equipment, because you can’t fill the tank all the way without it being connected. This will be the sump, drains from the tank into the sump, pumps in the sump connected to the tank via hoses or pvc pipe. You can do a pcv spray bar or get flexible nozzles and drill the tank. Obviously a pcv spray bar with flexible hoses being the quickest and cheapest where as a bulkhead kit, pcv piping, and flexible in tank outlet nozzles is on the more expensive side. Not to mention being more time consuming and complicated. It is not that hard to drill a tank but takes some patience.


Once the sump is setup you’ll want to mount the skimmer, heater(s), chiller, and auto top off system. You will need to follow the directions for all these as they are all different. The Auto top off will go in the sump because it is the low point so the sump level will drop from evaporation and the tank will always remain the same. Make sure to keep the level of the sump low enough that the tank can drain down in the event of a power failure to the level of your in tank overflows and not overflow the sump in the process. You can also put the live rock and any refugium setup you want to do in your sump now too. You can even have a separate tank for the refugium and a pump to circulate the sump water to it, with drains back into the sump.


Now you’re gonna want to put your sand in the tank, some people choose to put down plastic egg-crate (light diffusing panel at the hardware store) to help balance the load of rocks but I personally never have. You will put the sand in and spread it around evenly to coat the bottom with a good 1/2″ of sand. Some will choose to do a 4″ deep sand bed but if you have sumps full of live rock and other forms of filtration such as a refugium a deep sand bed isn’t needed and just eats up vertical tank space. At this point you can put the rock in the tank and set it up the way you’d like it. Before putting any water in the tank at all it will be much easier. You can use reef safe glue or putty to get rocks to stay together and to build large formations. You can also mount in tank power heads now as well. Once you’ve got the tank setup you can finally start filling it with the premixed saltwater from your storage tank and you’ll need to mix more to get it full unless your storage tank is the size of your tank. If you do not have a storage tank just let the RODI system fill the tank directly at this point and mix in the salt when it’s full. Remember you can always add more but not take any out without a water change. So go slow and follow directions to avoid wasting expensive salt.


So your tank should be filled at this point. You can cycle it four ways.

  • Chemicals

  • Source of Ammonia (Fish food, piece of shrimp, etc.)

  • Damsels

  • Live Rock

Chemicals are exactly what the name implies. It is bottles of specific chemicals designed to cycle your tank. There are numerous manufacturers of instant cycle and cycle in a bottle formula. I don’t really use these as it can get pricey so I can’t recommend one specific brand but they must work at least halfway decent if they’ve been around this long. Make sure to do research on the specific one you are considering buying to make sure it’s got a good reputation. Some work faster than others as well, some claim it’s instant and others take a bit longer.


Source of Ammonia is similar to chemical but the time to cycle it is longer. You’re adding fish food or a piece of shrimp to rot and make ammonia to start the cycle but you’ll have to wait for it to complete. This means the beneficial bacteria must convert the ammonia into nitrite and then into nitrate. It can take around 35 days to complete a cycle. You want 0 Ammonia and Nitrite with as little as Nitrate as possible at all times, 0-5ppm is great. The cycle is complete once you’ve seen an Ammonia spike, Nitrite spike and then an appearance of Nitrates. Once this happens and the Ammonia and Nitrite drops to 0 it is complete. It doesn’t hurt to add a little more of the ammonia source if you only started with a small amount in order to keep the cycle it going. If you stuck a chunk of shrimp in and it’s still rotting then you’re fine. You just remove it when you put fish in since they’ll then be the source of Ammonia.


Damsels are small, inexpensive, and hardy saltwater fish. They can be used to cycle a tank with nothing else. Make sure you treat the water and let it settle in PH and Temperature first but otherwise you just put them in. 3 fish per 100 gallons is plenty to cycle it. Some people consider this mean as the fish must live through an Ammonia spike but in a massive tank destined for Sharks, that is the least of their worries. The water volume is so large the Ammonia will be diluted quite a lot and not spike as high in a smaller tank. Plus if you use some live rock like mentioned in the previous articles it should have some beneficial bacteria already and can handle the load of the Damsels anyway. You can also use water conditioner to make the Ammonia nontoxic to fish, to ensure there is no harm done. The Damsels may get eaten by your Sharks eventually but they are cheap and easily replaceable if it does happen. Just think of them as slightly more expensive feeder fish. They are fast though and can evade quite well. The cycle is complete once you’ve seen Ammonia and Nitrite spike and both have settled to 0. You’ll do water changes to keep the Nitrates as low as possible. This applies to any method of cycling.


In a saltwater tank you may also cycle it with live rock. There will usually be some dead and some live creatures by the time you get it home. So the dead ones will rot and start the cycle as it is. These will mostly be tiny little things living within the rock but it does the job. If you bought all dry rock this does not apply. I personally prefer live rock; you always get some neat surprises. Some people worry about nuisance anemones and other animals but everything is fixable if it gets out of control. Once you’re cycled it’s time to choose a shark.

Chain Catsharks in an Aquarium.

Here is a short list of sharks you should and should not keep plus a brief description of what kind of setup you’ll need to keep them. You need to match temperature zones, so if you want a cold water shark you will have to dismiss any warm water sharks and vice versa. Not all species in the same temperature zone are compatible either, so make sure to do your research on specific sharks before combining them. This is not a conclusive list by any means. I tried to cover some of the common and not so common. If you know of any I missed that you feel should be added let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to this list.


  • Coral Cat Shark – One of the common sharks kept by home aquarists. They stay small enough to be raised in a 180g tank but will eventually need moved to a larger tank when they are adults. I don’t like making claims for the minimum size so I’ll just state an 8’x4’x2.5’ (600g) tank would be great. They need a hiding place in the tank as well. This is a warm water shark, over 72 degrees is needed. They will dine on small fish, shrimp, squid and crabs among other things. They get to be around 2’ long when mature.










  • Bull Shark – While the fact that these can live in Freshwater may be tempting the massive size potential should scare anyone away. At an adult size of over 10’ leave the keeping of these giants to public aquariums with the proper resources. Not suggested for private aquarists.












  • Brown Banded Bamboo Shark (Brown Spotted Cat Shark, Bamboo Cat Shark) -These are also common smaller sharks available to private aquarists. They adapt well to captivity and can be raised in a standard 180g tank. They will outgrow it eventually though and a 10’x4’x3’ tank will be suggested for these. They like warm water, around 75 degrees and will eat squid, shrimp, and mussels among other items. The Brown Banded Bamboo Shark will reach a length of up to 40” when mature.


















  • Reef Sharks – Not recommended unless you are already an experienced Shark keeper. The White tip can breathe without swimming; the Black Tip must swim constantly in order to breathe. These are very active sharks; you really do need a massive tank. You could raise a small one in a 10’x4’ tank (preferably with rounded corners) but a much larger oval or rounded pool is really needed eventually. Somewhere in the 20’-30’ diameter or larger would be great. The White and Black Tip Reef Sharks can reach up to 5’+ long. The Caribbean and Grey Reef Sharks are not as common in Home Aquaria, they also get larger so it’s best to stick to the smaller Black and White Tip Reef Sharks if you want to keep a Reef shark. The White Tip comes from deeper water as well; while you can keep them in shallower tanks it is worth mentioning that they may prefer deeper water. The White Tips will rest due to their ability to breathe while stationary so give them a hiding spot and they might use it. These are large predatory sharks, they will eat a wide array of prey including but not limited to shrimp, squid, fish, and crabs.


  • White Spotted Bamboo Shark – A good shark to keep in captivity due to the relatively small adult size. They are small enough to be raised in a 180g tank but will eventually need moved to a larger tank when they are adults. A 10’x4’x3’ tank would be great but slightly smaller will suffice. They prefer warmer water, over 72 degrees. The females can reach roughly 3.5’ while the males will get to 2.5’. They eat crustaceans and small fish like most other smaller sharks. The White Spotted Bamboo shark also enjoys having a hiding spot.

  • Wobbegong Sharks– These lazy bottom dwelling sharks range from medium sized to pretty large sizes. Some can be kept in captivity in large tanks but they are not that common. There are also cool and warm water Wobbegong Sharks, so research the specific one you’re interested in. They are not the most active Sharks either, simply lying around a lot of the time.

  • Epaulette Shark – These are a good choice for a Home Aquarium. They stay fairly small and will even breed in captivity. A standard 180g Aquarium can be used to raise a small one but the larger 10’x4’ would again be suggested as a nice size lifelong home. They do well in water in the mid 70’s and eat the same fish, shrimp and crustacean diet as many others. Adult size will range from 2’-3.5’.

  • Horn Shark (California Horn Shark) – Another commonly seen smaller shark that is suitable for captivity. They do reach up to 3’ so a good sized tank is needed. They also tend to stay in deeper water, so it’s ideal to have a deeper than normal aquarium if you want to recreate the natural habitat. They prefer water over 70 degrees and eat sea urchins, crabs, shrimp, and most things that live on the ocean floor.

  • Nurse Shark – Get very large, not recommended unless you have a Sea World size tank. Some people do choose to keep these monsters. They can reach up to 10-14’ so this is why I would not suggest one. Well unless you have a tank the size of a house.

  • Bonnethead Shark (Shovelhead) – These are the smallest species of Hammerhead Shark, staying under 4’ long. You will need a large tank or pond but keeping one is possible. A pond is preferred but a very large custom rounded corner tank can also suffice. They move constantly in order to breathe, thus my suggestion for a very large pond or pool. They prefer water over 70 degrees and eat small fish and crustaceans. This is not the easiest species to keep but they are extraordinary fish. They scan the bottom searching for food, moving side to side like someone with a metal detector walking on the beach.

  • White Shark (Great White Shark) – No. Not possible. Even massive aquariums have tried and failed. Just in case you wondered. Shark Week is a good White Shark fix. A few more not to consider for home aquaria would be Whale Sharks, Tiger Sharks, and Sand Tiger Sharks.

The 10’x4’ tank mentioned in most cases above would be 3’ tall, this is a 900 gallon tank. You will need another 200+ gallon tank/tub/pool to use as a sump as well. Unless the species you chose likes deeper water, then you can go taller. Keep in mind the taller the tank the more difficult it is to clean and access the bottom. It will also be a larger water volume and therefore need more heat and larger pumps. The 900 gallon tank will be a big undertaking, especially in the time and money department. So do the math, add everything up, make sure it’s right for you. One of the largest factors is heat, if you’ve got 1,100 gallons of water you’ll need 4,000 watts or more of heat depending how much you need to increase the temperature. 4,000 watts is a lot, it will increase your bill substantially if it has to run even 10% of the time. So choose wisely when picking tank location along with what is going into the tank. If you can put the tank in a location where the ambient temperature is stable year round and near the desired water temperature you can save yourself some money. Insulating the tank is also a good idea. The pumps and skimmers will also use a significant amount of power as well because they run constantly. I’m not trying to scare you but it’s the reality of having a large aquarium at home. Also keep in mind that sharks are very sensitive to copper along with other things, so don’t put any chemicals or decorations in the tank before checking to make sure it’s safe for your sharks. Lastly, make sure to buy quality pumps and heaters that do not leak stray electrical current into the water as it is not healthy for the sharks. Thanks for reading, we hope this helps you on your quest to set up a Shark Aquarium. Don’t forget to bookmark this page in case you need to check back in the future.

7 Ideal Sharks for the Saltwater Aquarium : 


When it comes to small sharks available to aquarists, some species will readily acclimate to the confines of a larger home aquarium.

courtesy to :  By Scott W. Michael 


There is no such thing as an extremely small shark species. There are, however, smaller shark species within the range of adult shark sizes. The truest small sharks, such as the dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi), which grows to just over 7 inches, are not available to aquarists. They live in deep ocean habitats and would not be suitable for captivity because of the physical characteristics of their natural environment. 

When it comes to small sharks available to aquarists, some species will readily acclimate to the confines of a larger home aquarium. Before we take a look at some of the most aquarium-friendly small shark species, we need to go over the basics of shark care.


For our purposes, size refers to both how large the shark species you choose will be as an adult and how large an aquarium you will need. There are a number of shark species that will do well in a home aquarium as juveniles but will outgrow almost any home tank. For example, young nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) make wonderful aquarium pets, but they typically attain adult lengths in excess of 10 feet. 


Epaulette Sharks : 



It's essential when looking for a shark for your aquarium that you consider the maximum reported length of the species, which represents the largest specimen ever measured. Not all members of a species will attain that size, but it's also possible that a rare specimen may exceed the measurement. Although length data are very limited for some shark species, the listed maximum length for a species will give you a good idea of the space requirements for a given shark. Most of the species I consider suitable for a home aquarium do not exceed 40 inches. 


It should not be surprising that these reef-dwelling sharks are more comfortable in the limited confines of an aquarium than other sharks. The more active species (e.g., smoothhound sharks, genus Mustelus) that spend more of their time swimming need a lot of room to move about. Although some of these sharks will occasionally rest on the sea floor, they spend more time swimming in the water column. 


Bigger is always better when selecting a tank for your shark. Specifically, you should choose one with a larger footprint: more length and width rather than height for the same volume of water. Sharks will utilize the added surface area. In the cases of the sharks I will suggest, keep a tank of at least 180 gallons for an adult specimen; a larger aquarium would even be better (e.g., 300 gallons).


This doesn't mean that juveniles cannot be kept in smaller tanks. They can, but be prepared to step up to a larger aquarium as the shark grows. If you do not have the money or space to keep an adult of the species in which you are interested, don't buy a juvenile. Even if there's a public aquarium in your area, it's highly unlikely they will want to take your overgrown pet, and it is ecologically irresponsible to release a captive shark back into the ocean. 


This doesn't mean that juveniles cannot be kept in smaller tanks. They can, but be prepared to step up to a larger aquarium as the shark grows. If you do not have the money or space to keep an adult of the species in which you are interested, don't buy a juvenile. Even if there's a public aquarium in your area, it's highly unlikely they will want to take your overgrown pet, and it is ecologically irresponsible to release a captive shark back into the ocean. 


Because room to move is imperative, even for the more sedentary species listed later, keep tank decor to a minimum. Although the species recommended live in habitats that are more structurally complex, in an aquarium, you will want to provide plenty of room so they can move about, usually at night. When they hunt or attempt to create or tuck into hiding places, they may knock aquarium decor loose and dig under rocks and corals.


Place aquarium decor directly on the aquarium bottom before adding sand to the tank so that these items are less likely to crush a digging shark. To create more stable caves and crevices, use adhesives that are available for creating interesting topographical features or to attach corals to a reef. Provide your shark with a suitable hiding place, such as a cave created in a patch reef placed at one end of the tank. By placing the shelter site there, you will leave plenty of open aquarium bottom for the shark to move around. (For more detailed information on setting up and maintaining an aquarium for sharks, you may want to check out my book Aquarium Sharks and Rays [2001]). 


Now let's take a look at some of the most suitable aquarium sharks.


Sharks That Walk? 


A couple of years ago, ichthyologist Dr. Gerry Allen discovered two new species of sharks in the genus Hemiscyllium (family Hemiscylliidae) that were dubbed "walking sharks” by the popular press because these fish move over the substrate by "walking” on their muscular pectoral and pelvic fins. Although the media believed these sharks were new to science, the first of the walking sharks, known to experts as epaulette sharks, was described in 1788.



Epaulette sharks will reproduce in large home aquariums. Photo by Scott. W. Michael

Epaulette sharks are truly marvelous. They live on coral reefs around the coasts of Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. There are seven described species, two of which were recently described in 2008 and at least two species that have yet to be scientifically described. All of the epaulette sharks have very limited distributions. The range of some species (e.g., the common Hemiscyllium ocellatum) has been erroneously extended, due to misidentification of similar sharks in the same genus.


Most of these sharks hide in crevices during the day and leave the safety of the reef at night to feed at adjacent sand flats, rubble beds or sea grass meadows. They use their sensitive sense of smell and electroreceptors to find invertebrates and small, slumbering fish. 


Epaulettes have to be the best of the aquarium shark species. Most are small (with maximum lengths under 30 inches) and are handsomely marked. Also, they readily acclimate to tight spaces. As egglayers, they deposit a leathery egg capsule on the sea floor and regularly reproduce in larger aquariums. Only one species, the epaulette shark (H. ocellatum), is currently available in the aquarium trade. I believe this may change soon, as new collecting stations are beginning to open up in West Papua and Papua New Guinea. The reefs in these areas are home to more epaulette shark species than any other region. If enough adults enter the trade, captive-breeding programs could also help provide specimens to hemiscylliid-loving aquarists.

The Wobbie :


One only has to consider the common name — wobbegong — of the members of the family Orectolobidae to know that these fish are truly unique. The name originates with the Australian Aborigines, which is appropriate, given that seven of the eight described species are most abundant or only occur around Australia. (There appears to be a couple of undescribed species that occur on reefs of Indonesia and the Philippines that have long been misidentified as one of the described Orectolobus species.)


When it comes to their way of life, wobbegongs are the elasmobranch equivalent of a scorpionfish or frogfish. As with these bony fish, wobbegongs are highly sedentary, typically resting in the same spot on the reef for extended periods of time — as long as food supplies are readily available. They rely on being secretive to go undetected by passing prey items, which can include octopuses, crustaceans, smaller sharks, rays and a wide variety of bony fishes. When an unsuspecting prey item moves too close, the patient predator ambushes it. 


These sharks are eating machines. Remember this if you are considering putting other fish in with a wobbegong. I once sold a 28-inch wobbegong to an aquarist who told me he was going to keep it in its own tank after I warned him of the wobby's propensity to consume aquarium neighbors. Several weeks later, he brought the wobbegong back. It turned out that he did not heed my warnings about its voraciousness and had placed it in a tank of larger fish. It ate his yellow tang, an angelfish and a large zebra moray, which it regurgitated in a partially digested state. (If a wobbegong eats something that is too large, it will not be able to digest it rapidly enough, in which case it may end up vomiting.)


Another too-large food item that wobbegongs will try to eat are slimmer shark species. I have seen cases in which the prey shark was too long to completely ingest, but that did not stop the wobbegong. It swallowed as much of the thinner shark as possible and lay there with the tail of its victim protruding from its mouth. They will even try to eat smaller wobbegongs (although they can be kept together if they are approximately the same size). You have been warned! 


There are only three species in this family that are small enough to be kept in a tank of 180 to 300 gallons. These are Cobbler's wobbegong (Sutorectus tentaculatus), the dwarf ornate wobbegong (Orectolobus ornatus, not to be mistaken for the much larger ornate wobbegong, O. halei), and Ward's wobbegong (O. wardi). All of these species max out at around 3 feet, and because of their normally sedentary habits, are ideal for a larger home aquarium. My favorite of the wobbie clan is the tasseled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon). This species gets larger, needing a tank of 400 to 600 gallons, but it is also the most interesting — it uses its tail as a lure to attract potential prey.




















The Catshark  


The family Scyliorhinidae is large, with more than 100 species, and includes some of the most attractive of all the sharks. Unfortunately, relatively few Scyliorhinidae sharks make it into the aquarium trade. The coral catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus) is the one that aquarists will most likely encounter. Note that there may actually be more than one species coming into the aquarium trade that are often mistaken for A. marmoratus.

The coral catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus) is a small, nocturnal species that is ideally suited for the home aquarium. Photo by Scott. W. Michael

The coral catshark is a reef dweller that tucks itself under debris or within interstices during the day, and comes out to hunt invertebrates and small fish at night. When it hatches from its purselike egg case, it's only 4 inches long, but it can reach a maximum length of about 27 inches. 


The coral catshark is a great aquarium species that will do well if provided with hiding places and plenty of surface area to move about at night. These catsharks may look rather benign, but they are efficient predators that will eat any fish or crustacean they can swallow whole. 


There are some very attractive cool-water catsharks that are also available on occasion. For example, members of the genus Asymbolus are sometimes exported from western Australia. These sharks mature at a small size (around 20 inches) and would be ideal for captive-breeding programs.


There is also a small Japanese species called the cloudy catshark (Scyliorhinus torazame) that enters the aquarium trade on occasion. These rocky reef-dwelling sharks can be kept in a home aquarium if the tank is equipped with an efficient chiller; water temperature should be 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.


Aquarists in Europe might also have access to the smallspotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula). This is a temperate water species that has readily bred in public aquariums. It reaches a maximum length of 24 inches (those species from the Mediterranean) to 3 feet (those from around the British Isles) and is sexually mature at around 17 inches. 


Even the smaller species of sharks are not suitable for every home aquarium. The tank needs to be large and aquascaped specifically to house a shark. The potential shark-keeper should also put a lot of thought into the species that he or she wants to acquire.


The best aquarium sharks are not that active during the day. Do not expect them to cruise about the aquarium looking menacing! Please stay away from those species that get too large (e.g., nurse shark) or that are too active (e.g., smoothhounds), and limit yourself to the species discussed here. If you follow this advice, you will be able to keep your shark for decades!


(This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Aquarium Fish International)

Sharks :


Most sharks available for the home aquarium are found on or around coral reefs, rocky reefs, or lagoons. Vitamin-enriched frozen squid, live ghost shrimp, and other meaty foods should be offered. After the Sharks have had time to establish themselves in the aquarium, it is advisable to control the amount of food offered. Most Sharks will outgrow even very large aquariums.



1- Cat Shark, Black Banded

Chiloscyllium punctatum 


Minimum Tank Size: 360 gallons

Care Level: Expert Only

Temperament: Aggressive

Reef Compatible: No

Water Conditions: 72-78° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025

Max. Size: 3' 6"

Color Form: Black, Tan

Diet: Carnivore

Compatibility: View Chart

Origin: Indonesia, Sumatra

Family: Hemiscyllidae

The Black Banded Cat Shark is known as a Cat Shark because the barbels at the mouth look like cat whiskers. It is also referred to as the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark, and has a cream-colored body with broad dark black stripes. There may be large, muted brown spots between the stripes when the fish gets larger.


The Black Banded Cat Shark is a bottom dwelling shark that is common in the home aquarium. It will eat any crustacean in the aquarium. It stays relatively small, but requires at least a 360 gallon or larger aquarium as an adult. It requires sand as the substrate as the abdomen is easily scratched by a coarser substrate, which may lead to an infection. It should never be exposed to copper-based medications.


Feeding may be difficult in the beginning. When first introduced into the aquarium, small pieces of cleaned squid or live saltwater feeder shrimp should be used to entice this fish to eat. Then it may be fed shrimp, scallops or pieces of fresh marine fish. Feeding these sharks quality foods such as whole cockle in the shell, fresh shrimp and squid, and frozen mussel are ideal.


Approximate Purchase Size: Small: 3" to 4"; Medium: 4" to 7"; Large: 7" to 10"

2- Marbled Bamboo Cat Shark

 Chiloscyllium plagiosum 


Minimum Tank Size: 300 gallons

Care Level: Expert Only

Temperament: Aggressive

Reef Compatible: No

Water Conditions: 72-78° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025

Max. Size: 3' 3"

Color Form: Black, Tan

Diet: Carnivore

Compatibility: View Chart

Origin: Tank-Raised

Family: Hemiscyllidae

The Bamboo Shark is also known as a Cat Shark because the barbels at the mouth look like cat whiskers. It is also referred to as the Whitespotted Bamboo Shark, and has a brown-colored body with broad tan stripes and spots.


The Bamboo Shark is a bottom dwelling shark that is common in the home aquarium. It will eat any crustacean in the aquarium. It stays relatively small, but requires at least a 300 gallon or larger aquarium as an adult. It requires sand as the substrate as the abdomen is easily scratched by a coarser substrate, which may lead to an infection. It should never be exposed to copper-based medications.


When first introduced into the aquarium, small pieces of cleaned squid or live saltwater feeder shrimp should be used to entice this fish to eat. Then it may be fed shrimp, scallops or pieces of fresh marine fish. Feeding these sharks quality foods such as whole cockle in the shell, fresh shrimp and squid, and frozen mussel are ideal.


Approximate Purchase Size: Small: 5" to 7" Medium: 7" to 10" Large: 10" to 15:

3- Shark Egg

 (Chiloscyllium sp.)


Minimum Tank Size: 360 gallons

Care Level: Expert Only

Temperament: Aggressive

Reef Compatible: No

Water Conditions: 72-78° F, dKH 8-12, pH 8.1-8.4, sg 1.020-1.025

Max. Size: 4"

Color Form: Tan

Diet: Carnivore

Compatibility: View Chart

Origin: Indo-Pacific

Family: Orectolobidae

As an adult, it requires at least a 360 gallon or larger aquarium. It requires sand as the substrate in the aquarium, as the abdomen is easily scratched by a coarser substrate, thus causing infection. It should never be exposed to copper-based medications. It will eat any crustacean in the aquarium.


The hatching time of the egg will be anywhere from 1 to 6 weeks depending on the stage of development and the environmental conditions in the aquarium. When hatched, offer small pieces of cleaned squid or live saltwater feeder shrimp in order to entice this fish to eat. Then it may be fed shrimp, scallops or pieces of fresh marine fish.


Approximate Purchase Size: 2-3/4" to 3-1/2"

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