Why are there never any great white sharks in aquariums?

Credit: iStock

Perhaps you have already wondered why you never see great white sharks in aquariums.  After all we are capable of keeping killer whales in captivity.  So why can’t we keep great white sharks in aquariums, as they are just as big?  

Some aquariums have already tried but they came up against problems in particular for the sharks.  Marineland of the Pacific in California made the first tentative attempt in the middle of the 1950s.  However the shark didn’t last more than 24 hours.  Other attempts also took place in the 60s, 70s and 80 in aquariums like SeaWorld.  However again the sharks survived for no more than a few days.  Last year, a great white shark being held in the Japanese aquarium in Okinawa survived for three days.

Monterey Bay aquarium in the United States is the only place that a great white shark managed to survive for more than a few days.  In 2004 the female shark managed to survive for six months.  However the shark would have suffered.  So why can’t great white sharks survive in captivity?

Big requirements

One requirement is their diet.  Great white sharks have a predatory instinct and prefer to attack living prey in particular large mammals.  In an aquarium it is difficult to offer a diet like this due to both practical and ethical reasons.  What sis more thhe general public would not be too impressed!  However this is why many great white sharks refuse to eat while in captivity.  They don’t accept eating “meals” that are already dead and they don’t find the meals sufficiently filling.

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Great white shark do not survive in captivity. Credits: Elias Levy

Too big for the space

While in captivity great white sharks can also stop swimming.   For great white sharks to get oxygen water must continually pass over their gills. If we assume that some sharks are more than five meters long, you’d need a gigantic tank. It is clear that no tank will be big enough for these sharks that are capable of traveling hundreds of kilometers a day.

Even if it was possible to find a tank that was big enough to meet their requirements, it is highly unlikely that the public would see the shark.  The aquarium would have to lure the shark with a live prey like in Jurassic Park.  However this wouldn’t go down well with the general public!

An unusual environment

Sensory fog” is another problem that could affect great white sharks. Great whites have a very sharp sensory perception which allows them to detect very subtle changes in their environment. In  an aquarium, these capacities are unfortunately confused by the environment itself for example the glass walls, noisy public, electronic devices, etc. In this type of environment great white sharks would find themselves quickly disoriented.

There continues to be a big debate about whether large mammals should be kept in captivity in animal parks. A complaint was recently lodged by the association C’est Assez!, calling the conditions imposed dolphins in Marineland animal park, Antibes “intolerable“.


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