Boy watching shark in aquarium © Frank Hoefken.

SHARKS IN AQUARIUMS

If you want to see sharks up-close then maybe an aquarium visit is for you. If you can’t encounter marine life first-hand, this can be a valuable experience. Making a connection with nature is a vital step towards conservation action.

Some people question the value of aquariums. Some have wider ethical objections to captive animals. For some species in particular, the issue of captive populations has become highly contentious.


SO WHERE DO WE STAND?

We believe that there are many benefits of well-run and responsible aquariums. They can provide a valuable opportunity to study and learn more about marine animals. And they allow large numbers of people to develop a positive connection with sharks and rays.

In most countries, Zoos and Aquariums are regulated and licensed. Good aquariums take their responsibilities seriously and will seek to:

  1. Source their animals (and their food) responsibly and sustainably.
     
  2. Deliver the best possible care for all of their animals and participate in collaborative captive breeding programmes.
     
  3. Maximise their educational and public engagement opportunities.
     
  4. Contribute to species conservation and influence positive behaviour change in their visitors and communities.

We're supportive of good aquariums. We work with many aquariums around the world. They help us to reach new supporters, to increase engagement with shark conservation and they help us raise funds to further our work. 

We believe good aquariums are a vital connection point between the millions of people that visit them and the challenges faced by wild marine animals. Where aquariums are fulfilling their remit to support conservation and provide quality education for their visitors, we believe they have a positive impact.


WHICH SPECIES?

Many aquariums will display smaller shark species that don’t require much space in the wild, such as Smallspotted Catsharks, Nursehounds and Epaulette Sharks. This is a great way to introduce people to the amazing diversity of shark species that exists in our oceans.

Larger sharks and rays are also frequently exhibited. These can often be the “stars” of an aquarium collection. New species appear in aquarium collections yearly as husbandry methods and captive breeding programmes improve. 

Some aquariums have tried to exhibit much larger sharks, such as the White Shark and Whale Shark.

From our perspective, we ask that aquariums carefully consider every animal that they bring into their collection. Can they deliver care throughout the animal’s life? Can they deliver effective education and engagement around this animal? Can the animal’s presence in their collection genuinely further species conservation or scientific understanding? If the answer is “no” then maybe they should think again.

Our view is that it’s inappropriate to attempt to keep plankton-eating or migratory species in captivity. We strongly encourage aquariums not to add these animals to their collections.


Aquariums shouldn’t work alone. Good aquariums will engage with national and international zoo and aquarium networks and will work with conservation NGO’s, local schools and other partners.

If you’re not sure about an aquarium and their contribution, ask them.