Ever wonder how the S.C. Aquarium adds to the population of its toothiest inhabitants?
Turns out bringing in new sharks means no screaming, no blood loss -- not even cello music.
As the attraction's director of husbandry and facilities Jason Crichton put it, "We want our animal moves to be really boring."
The aquarium doubled the number of sharks in its Great Ocean Tank on Monday morning in one careful hour that involved calming oxygen bubbles and antibiotic injections, slippery stretchers and observant divers. Four young sandbar sharks and one young black tip started the work day in a holding tank inside the sea turtle hospital but, by 10 a.m., had begun inspecting their new digs and 700 roommates.
First, one of the aquarium divers stepped onto a scale wearing a soaked wet suit and holding the stretcher. That way, he could carry the shark and subtract himself and the gear from the total weight to determine the animal's size.
Each weighed in at 5 to 10 pounds and measured 2 to 3 feet long. Aquarium staff and volunteers collected the sharks near Dewees Island last summer, Crichton said.
He said the aquarium collects only young sharks because they adapt better to unfamiliar environments. Staff members keep new animals under quarantine to observe their health before introducing them to exhibits.
After more than six months backstage, the sharks left that quarantine Monday. Starting the move, aquarium workers inside the holding tank scooped a sandbar shark into a thick net and loaded it, thrashing, on the stretcher.
They positioned the shark's head inside a hood on the stretcher because darkness keeps the animals calmer, Crichton said.
After a quick trip to the scale, the shark moved into a tub on wheels, with pure oxygen bubbling in. Then the caretakers rolled the tub into an elevator.
There, veterinarian Shane Boylan prepared a syringe with the appropriate amount of antibiotic for the shark's weight and injected it behind its dorsal fin as other staff members kept the animal steady. They then wheeled it out to the top of the Great Ocean Tank and lifted the stretcher from the tub to the tank.
They shook loose the shark, while a diver waited inside the tank, watching how it adjusted to the new environment.
Staffers repeated the process four times until they had moved all four sandbar sharks and the one near-threatened black tip out of the holding tank. The only glitch: One fed-up sandbar defiantly sunk its best assets into the stretcher and spent a few seconds locked that way before deciding to swim away.
Aquarium senior biologist and dive safety officer Arnold Postell estimates that the sharks are all 2 or 3 years old. They will live at the aquarium for three to five years before moving to an attraction with better space for large sharks.
Some 700 fish from 45 species inhabit the Great Ocean Tank, a 44-foot deep exhibit filled with water from the Cooper River.
Ten sharks now call the S.C. Aquarium's Great Ocean Tank home:
• 4 sandbar• 3 sand tiger• 2 nurse• 1 black tip
Arnold Postell and Joe Rafalowski release a black tip shark Monday into the Great Ocean Tank at the South Carolina Aquarium. There are a total of five new sharks in the tank — four sandbar sharks and one black tip shark.×
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