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Related Articles: Sharks For the Home Aquarium?, Blacktip Sharks, Nurse Sharks, Marine Batoids (Rays, Skates), Freshwater Stingrays, Coldwater SharksLeopard Sharks, Port Jackson Sharks,

Sharks in My Living Room?


by Phillip Bozek


There are a number of reasons why - they range from a childhood dream to a statement to others. They are shark tanks. Most aquarists at one point or another want to keep a shark. But one thing most people don't think about is the shark itself. People often set up small crowded tanks and then make the crowding problem worse when they add a shark. I'm going to make it clear, 90-95% of aquarists can not keep a healthy shark alive for any period of time. It requires patience, time and most of all discipline.

Shark sizes range from the 6 inch Spined Pygmy Shark to the 49 foot Whale Shark. A common myth of new shark keepers is that if you buy a small shark and put it in a small tank then it will become a dwarf shark. THIS IS NOT TRUE!!! I sadly read about too many people who buy sharks and put them in tanks that are way too small for them. I recall a woman on Wetwebmedia.com who had a 4 foot tank with 5 sharks, totaling 5 feet of fish. Of her five sharks, two were Leopard Sharks. These sharks, when fully matured, need a 4,200 gallon tank. She also had both a White Spotted and a Brown banded Bamboo Shark, plus a Horn Shark. Horn Sharks need cool water around 65 degrees. 

Of all sharks there are two that come to mind when size is a factor. They are:

  • The Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) Minimum Tank Size: 260 Gallons
  • The White-Spotted Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium hasselti) Minimum Tank Size: 220 Gallons

Many people don't understand that most sharks need the width of the tank to be at least 75% of their body length if not more. Many "Show" tanks are not suitable for sharks because height is not a factor. I once had a conversation with Steven Pro. He told me this when I asked him how small of a tank a shark could be put in:

"I could stuff you in your closet; if I fed you and provided you with air and light you would live. But would you be happy?"--Steven Pro. If you can't afford a 220 gallon tank (6x2.5x2.5 L, W, H in feet) then you will not be able to keep most, if not all, sharks alive for their average lifespan. Another factor is weight. Let's say water weighs a modest 8 lbs a gallon. 220 gallons of water will weigh 1,760 pounds. This limits the placement of these tanks to first floors. One other thing to consider, even if you have no basement; is that even with only water, the weight of the tank is equivalent to putting a Dodge Ram 1500 in your living room. Some people think that because they have a concrete slab under some or all of their house, weight is not a factor. Two words: Think again! This is just the water. You still have to add the tank, any live rock, all equipment needed to keep these animals alive and don't forget the sharks themselves. A fully grown Epaulette Shark weighs about 20-25 pound at adult size.

Sharks in my living room? Sys...   12/16/07 Hello, I am only writing you because I have found an error in the article Sharks in My Living Room? located at http://www.wetwebmedia.com/sharkslvgrm.htm. I would like to point out first off, that I have on the second floor in my house in my room a 75 gallon saltwater reef tank, and a 220 gallon shark tank housing one brown banded bamboo shark. So if we used the 8lbs per gallon calculation that would put 2360lbs worth of water in my bedroom on the second floor. They've been setup for a year with no problems. <Unfortunately, there are many marine animals which can take over a year to die. And even if the sad creature doesn't die, as Steven Pro is quoted as saying "I could stuff you in your closet; if I fed you and provided you with air and light you would live. But would you be happy?"> Also the article says, "One other thing to consider, even if you have no basement; is that even with only water, the weight of the tank is equivalent to putting a Dodge Ram 1500 in your living room." Right before that in the article it says that a 220 gallon tank only water would weigh 1760lbs. A Dodge Ram 1500 weighs in with a curb weight of roughly 6600lbs. <Really? I thought it was closer to 6400lbs... hmmm, maybe that's with only half a tank of gas?> That would be the equivalent of a 825 gallon tank, <...which would be a more appropriate housing for a shark.> not a 220 gallon. So it can definitely be done, <It can be done, but done well? I could build a house out of popsicle sticks, but would you want to live in it?> if your house is structurally sound, to have a shark tank in your second floor bedroom. By the way the shark is doing great and appears to be very healthy for about a year now! Thanks <Thank you for pointing out the flaw in Mr. Bozek's analogy. Perhaps he was thinking of the weight of a closer-to-ideal tank set-up rather than just the bare minimum to keep the animals just short of death.> Greg <Best, Sara M.>

There is a true story about a man who tried to put a 2,400 gallon tank in his home office to impress his neighborhood. He never checked to see if the concrete slab under that part of his house would hold the weight. Over the course of 8 months his home office started sinking. In the end, what would have cost him a phone call to check the capacity of the concrete slab, instead cost him thousands as his home office was dug up and re-built.

When you buy any tank there is always an issue that comes up: Glass or acrylic?? For a shark tank it doesn't really matter which one you choose. But keep in mind that glass costs less, and is easier to clean. One reason I choose glass is because it does not scratch as easily. Acrylic weighs less than glass, and it is said that acrylic is "clearer" than glass. As a rule of thumb, this may just be the costliest part of the whole setup.

What shark is best for me??

This question is asked all the time by aquarists who want sharks. But the answer is not quite as simple as people think. There are many different types of sharks (around 357 to be exact). There are a few different families of sharks that will suit the beginning shark keeper. I will describe the two best shark families; these are what many experts consider the heartiest sharks. Yes, there are many other fine types of sharks, but these are the easiest to keep and are readily available to the common saltwater enthusiast.

Family Hemiscylliidae- Bamboo & Epaulette

These sharks fair well in a tank between 220-350 gallons. This family has 3 species that show up in U.S. aquarium shops on a regular basis. These sharks stay small - their average maximum length is about 41.7 inches. One advantage of Family Hemiscylliidae is that they spent most of their time in tide pools, where space is limited and water is warm. For this family, water temperature should be between 72-82 degrees F.

"Best" sharks in Family Hemiscylliidae:

1. White-Spotted Bamboo Shark- max. length is 37 inches. Minimum tank size is 220 gallons.

2. Brownbanded Bamboo Shark- max. length is 40.6 inches. Minimum tank size is 220 gallons.

3. Epaulette Shark- max. length is 41.7 inches. Minimum tank size is 260 gallons.

Family Heterodontidae-Bullhead Sharks

This family of shark gets its name from the "hump" or ridges on the top of its head. All members of this family have spines on their dorsal fin. Many aquarists find these sharks faces "cute". This fondness for the shark creates a bond between owner and fish. I have seen expert aquarists feed these animals by hand and even stroke their sides. I do not recommend this practice for any new shark keepers. This species of shark may be "cute" looking but never the less it IS a natural predator. This isn't a dog or cat, it's a fish with jaws that can crush sea urchins. A finger would be like a toothpick. Of all the members of this family, the Horn Shark (Heterodontus francisci) is the most commonly encountered in U.S. fish shops. The average length of sharks in this family is rather large. Yes, the Horn Shark does stay at a nice 40 inches or so, but the Crested Port Jackson Shark can reach 3.5 feet while the Port Jackson Shark has been reported at lengths of 5.5 feet!! Sharks in the family Heterodontidae need a tank that stays cool, between 57- 70 degrees F.

"Best" shark in Family Heterodontidae

Horn Shark- Maximum length is 46.2 inches. Minimum tank size is 280 gallons.

By reading this I hope that I have convinced some aquarists that sharks are not for them. I also hope that I have made some people more interested in these fine animals. A shark tank, even for the smallest shark, will run in to the thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. It WILL take hours of your time a week. But the reward is a piece of the ever changing ocean, complete with the worlds most amazing predator. Please use www.wetwebmedia.com to find answers to your shark questions and to satisfy all your other aquatic needs.

Further Reading:


Sharks and Rays in Aquariums

Gaining an understanding of how to keep these fishes in captive saltwater systems   

New eBook on Amazon: Available here

 by Robert (Bob) Fenner

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