In many ways, caring for sharks is like caring for other animals at the Zoo, with an obvious twist—they spend their life underwater!
Here at the San Diego Zoo, we begin our day with a walk-through of the exhibit to put eyes on our leopard sharks that share a pool with the African penguins. We take note of each individual’s energy level, foraging behavior, and body condition. Our sharks are not able to let us know how they are feeling, so we have to be able to decide that based on what we see.
After the walk-through on feeding days, we prep their food, weighing out correct portions of whitefish, capelin, and squid. Since our sharks are continuing to acclimate to the exhibit, we are offering them food both in the morning and afternoon, approximately five days a week.
Once the food is good to go, we head out to the beach area where we work closely with penguin keepers. Since our animals eat the same items, we coordinate shark feedings to follow the penguins that, with nice full bellies, leave our sharks to forage on their favorite items.
Feeding time gives us a chance to have a closer look at each shark. How do we know which shark is which? Just like a human parent, we can tell each of the sharks apart from their looks; each has distinctive markings. While we feed out, our brains are working: How much is each shark eating? Are they moving normally? Is there any aggression between the sharks? Are we seeing every shark at both feeds?
However, feeding the sharks is not all that we do! We are currently caring for about 50 fish that will be making their way into the exhibit after their quarantine period. Working alongside the animal health team, we are helping to provide different treatments to ensure the health of these fish. Ranging from individual procedures to whole group treatments, the Reptile and Fish Team are in the process of bringing a diverse group of marine fish to the new exhibit at Africa Rocks. Keep your eyes peeled!
With the new undertaking to care for these animals in their natural habitat (underwater), we have had to move our skills underwater also! You will find us scuba diving down into the exhibit to get a closer look at the sharks, at times. You might also see the divers cleaning the tank, providing additional food, or even doing keeper chats! Each of the shark keepers was specifically trained to ensure they are able safely work underwater and have the ability to rescue each other.
A day in the life of a shark keeper is like nothing else at the Zoo; be sure you head down to catch a glimpse of the sharks or maybe even the elusive “keeper fish” as well!
Lawrie Arends is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.