ATLANTA (NOVEMBER 21, 2016) – Georgia Aquarium, Inc. announced today the opening of a new facility for breeding sand tiger sharks and to carry out reproductive research on one of the most at-risk and iconic of all shark species. This new facility will be at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, Georgia Aquarium’s affiliate, and will utilize a variety of natural features to provide sand tiger sharks with an environment conducive to breeding activity. Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and Ripley’s Aquariums are partners in this new program, having contributed adult sand tiger sharks from their respective institutions and assisted with their relocation to Marineland. The South-East Zoo Alliance for Reproduction and Conservation (SEZARC) is also a collaborating partner.
“We were able to bring additional sand tiger sharks to Marineland with the assistance and cooperative expertise of all four organizations working alongside one another, which has been a wonderful opportunity,” said Chris Coco, senior director of zoological operations, fish and invertebrates at Georgia Aquarium. “Marineland now has one of the largest collections of sand tiger sharks in the U.S., and they provide guests with the chance to connect with this unique species of shark, understand the pressing challenges they face, and to respect them and their wild counterparts.”
The ongoing study of the reproductive cycle of sand tiger sharks will help scientists better understand how they reproduce and collect biological samples for further testing. This species experienced population decline due to more than 40 years of overfishing and entanglement in commercial fishing gear. Working alongside partner institutions, Georgia Aquarium and Marineland teams will not only provide natural breeding opportunities for sand tigers, but also collect samples of sperm from the animals in their care for cryopreservation. Hopefully, these samples will eventually be used for artificial insemination in aquariums worldwide.
“This is an integral part of our on-going research with sand tiger sharks to better understand them and the unique way they breed,” said Coco. “We perform routine handlings alongside our veterinary teams to better understand the chemical and biological markers in blood and sperm samples that could lead to successful reproduction in these sharks. Births in accredited zoological facilities would not only be a tremendous achievement, but would help us learn more about sand tiger sharks and reduce our take from wild populations. We are also able to add to the body of knowledge and data to the scientific community to further the study of this species. Most importantly, we are able to educate guests about the significant habitat loss and population decline experienced by this unique shark and in time, all of us can take steps to help shark populations.”
The habitats these sand tiger sharks reside in at Marineland are ideal for a breeding program due to a variety of features. They are located outdoors, providing exposure to daylight and temperature changes associated with different seasons of the year which may assist in breeding cycles. Animal care staff maintain the exhibits using natural seawater, which is filtered through the facility’s life support systems. This area of Marineland is open to guests and can be visited in the Neptune Park area.
ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM, INC.
Georgia Aquarium, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that encompasses Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, and Marineland Dolphin Adventure and Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station in Marineland, Fla. The mission of Georgia Aquarium, Inc. is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific organization featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, and offering engaging and exciting guest experiences that promote the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org or www.marineland.net.
ABOUT AZA SAFE
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which Georgia Aquarium is a member, launched its Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program in 2015 as an effort to spread awareness about conservation efforts, wildlife expertise and saving species in the wild. This past year, ten species were the focus of SAFE, including sharks. In keeping with AZA’s SAFE mission, Georgia Aquarium and its partners have come together to attempt to successfully breed sand tiger sharks.
ABOUT SAND TIGER SHARKS
Sand tiger sharks are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list. Only one to two pups are born every two years after a 9-12 month gestation period, making it one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks. The low number of pups is in part due to intra-uterine cannibalism; the dominant or larger embryos eat the less-dominant embryos in utero, causing sand tiger shark reproductive cycles to result in low numbers of live births. To find out more information on sand tiger sharks, visit Georgia Aquarium’s animal guide here.