The Largest Collection of Bull Sharks in the World
The Oklahoma Aquarium is home to nine different species of sharks, including the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. The Oklahoma Aquarium’s shark adventure houses 10 bull sharks and three nurse sharks in a 380,000-gallon saltwater tank and is the only bull shark exhibit in the Western Hemisphere.
Bull sharks are one of the most unique shark species as well as one of the most notorious ocean predators. They are widely regarded as one of “the most dangerous” sharks in the world because they have the strongest bite force of any shark species and are responsible for a large proportion of shark bites each year. Bull sharks are also known for their ability to inhabit both freshwater and saltwater.
The bull sharks also share their tank with three nurse sharks, which are large but docile “carpet sharks.” Carpet sharks are classification of sharks that derive their name from the fact that some species look like ornate rugs. Many carpet shark species are harmless and visitors of the Oklahoma Aquarium can pet a few in the shark and ray touch tank, which features white-spotted bamboo sharks and marbled cat sharks. The Oklahoma Aquarium also cares for swell sharks, zebra sharks, leopard sharks, and bonnethead sharks.
Conservation and Research
Unfortunately for sharks, widespread conservation issues often go unnoticed because sharks are often mischaracterized in popular culture as malicious and aggressive. In truth, these predators are dangerous, but they are also important to our ecosystems and very vulnerable to human activity.
Over 100 million sharks are killed every year for the shark fin trade as some cultures use the fins of larger shark species to create a soup called shark fin soup. In addition to these killings, shark populations suffer further from overfishing and bycatch. When sharks are mistakenly caught in the process of catching a different animal, the shark is considered bycatch. The effects of bycatch are further compounded by sharks misunderstood reputation as aggressive and dangerous. Although most shark species pose no threats to humans, people’s fear often lead them to kill sharks as bycatch rather than return them safely to our oceans.
Sharks are imperative to the health of our oceans as large predatory sharks often serve as the apex predator in their ecosystem. An apex predator has no natural predators, and is therefore key in controlling other population sizes beneath it in the food chain. Predatory sharks also enforce ocean health by preying on sick and injured fish, which prevents the rapid spread of disease lower in the food chain, which protects humans from ingesting unhealthy seafood as well.
The Oklahoma Aquarium has also conducted research on its sharks. Previous research has focused on creating safer, less stressful husbandry practices for bull sharks; investigating the efficacy of “shark-repellent” surfboards; and partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) to create shark-resilient mooring lines for their Tsunami Alert System.