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July 30, 2009

Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California now exhibiting rare live tiger shark

This is currently the only live tiger shark on display on the continental United States.

If you're of my generation and you like to fish, when you think of a tiger shark you picture the big, smelly shark hanging on the dock in the hit movie Jaws.  You probably also think about the fact that tiger sharks reach a length of 14 feet and can weigh more than 1,400 pounds, and that they second on the worldwide man eaters list behind the much feared Great White.

That's why I was so surprised when I had my first glimpse of the juvenile tiger shark now on display at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.  The five-foot female tiger looked cute, almost cuddly as it circled around the aquarium's shark exhibit, in a special area subdivided by bright striped netting.   I was aware that pelagic sharks such as Great Whites have been hard to keep alive in captivity, in part because of their proclivity for bumping their noses into the walls of the tank.   It was explained to me by aquarium Public Information Officer Marilyn Padilla that the bright canvas netting is being used to aid the shark in navigating the confines of her home without unnecessary bumps or bruises.

This is currently the only live tiger shark on display on the continental United States.  Her mother was captured in a commercial fishing net off Taiwan and she was actually born in captivity and transported from Asia to California.  The tiger has been at the aquarium since February of this year, but just recently went on public display last week.   Because there are so few of them in captivity, aquarium biologists have had to learn as they go about the care and feeding of this apex predator.  According to aquarium spokespeople, it's been an extremely valuable experience.   In the wild, juvenile tigers feast on a variety of fish and seabirds.  Adults, well they pretty much eat whatever they want, including (remember the "fish autopsy" scene from Jaws?) license plates, tin cans and other human refuse that can greatly endanger their health.  After experimenting with 30 different restaurant-grade food items, biologists have found that this juvenile tiger shows a fondness for fish and shrimp.

The non-profit Aquarium of the Pacific (www.aquariumofpacific.org) hopes having this tiger on display will be a great learning experience for the public, as well.  This is a rare opportunity for sport anglers and other "fish fans" to get a close-up look at one of nature's most awesome predators.   These slow-to-reproduce sharks are being heavily harvested worldwide for their fins, meat and liver (still used in a surprising array of cosmetics and other products), and the more we can learn about them now, the better.