Honoring #SharkWeek: The Best Shark Species For A Large Saltwater Tank in Your Home or Office

Honoring #SharkWeek: The Best Shark Species For A Large Saltwater Tank in Your Home or Office

So... Are there “shark people” out there? The answer is yes! If you happen to visit this website regularly you’re probably one of them! Though some people are afraid of sharks, and others are indifferent, there are plenty of people who recognize the beauty and complexity of a shark and they just can’t get enough of them. So if you’re a shark person, how do you get your fill without living near an ocean? The answer might surprise you.


Knowing What Species Will Readily Acclimate To The Confines Of Large Home Aquarium

There is no such thing as an extremely small shark species. There are, however, smaller shark species within the range of adult shark sizes. The truest small sharks, such as the dwarf lantern shark (Etmopterus perryi), which grows to just over 7 inches, are not available to aquarists. They live in deep ocean habitats and would not be suitable for captivity because of the physical characteristics of their natural environment.
When it comes to small sharks available to aquarists, some species will readily acclimate to the confines of a larger home aquarium. Before we take a look at some of the most aquarium-friendly small shark species, we need to go over the basics of shark care.
Nurse Shark - Photo Credits: twhofishdivers.com

Nurse Shark - Photo Credits: twhofishdivers.com

What You See Isn’t Always What You Should Get

Despite the fact that you can purchase a large variety of different types of sharks, it doesn’t mean you should. Not all species are good for aquarium life, so you need to discover what ones need to stay in the ocean, and what ones will be comfortable and adapt to their new home. There are a number of shark species that will do well in a home aquarium as juveniles but will outgrow almost any home tank. When choosing the right type of shark for your home, you want to stick with the smaller species rather than the larger ones.

When browsing, you might see a baby hammerhead or various types of reef shark for sale, but these should be avoided. Large sharks can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) each year and you will end up needing to get a bigger aquarium to house them. For example, young nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) make wonderful aquarium pets, but they typically attain adult lengths in excess of 10 feet. As with any pet you choose, safety for you and your family should be the first priority. Plus, with a lifespan of 25 to 35 years, you’ll need to know that you can care for your pet no matter what happens in the future.

The Sharks That Make The Best Pets

It’s essential when looking for a shark for your aquarium that you consider the maximum reported length of the species, which represents the largest specimen ever measured. Not all members of a species will attain that size, but it’s also possible that a rare specimen may exceed the measurement. Although length data are very limited for some shark species, the listed maximum length for a species will give you a good idea of the space requirements for a given shark. Most of the species I consider suitable for a home aquarium do not exceed 40-45 inches.

The best aquarium sharks are bottom-dwelling species that live on coral or rocky reefs. These animals are used to navigating among crevices, caves and overhangs. Some of these sharks (e.g., epaulette sharks, Hemiscyllium spp.) even exhibit specialized modes of locomotion that enable them to better move about within tight spaces. Many of these sharks also spend a considerable amount of time resting in reef crevices, especially during the day.

It should not be surprising that these reef-dwelling sharks are more comfortable in the limited confines of an aquarium than other sharks, consider one of these saltwater beauties: [NOT FOR BEGINNERS/EXPERTS ONLY‼️]

1. Epaulettes

Most people who are shark owners own this type of shark. It would easily win any popularity contest due to its slim and fast-moving body and 2 handsome spots above his pectoral fins. Epaulettes love small spaces and confinement as it makes them feel safe. They love to bottom-feed on the sandy aquarium floor but do not need to eat often as they like to fast for a few weeks and then feast.


Photo Credit: Flikr - Drriss & Marionn

2. Wobbegong

This is a member of the carpet shark family and you will see this by the carpet markings on his body. Getting the right species of Wobbegong is a must as some species can get as big as 10 feet (3.04 meters) in length. Look for the tasseled or Ward’s Wobbegong to ensure that your pet stays small enough to handle. The Wobbegong has a very slow metabolism, meaning that he only needs to eat twice a week and his exercise consists of hanging out at the bottom of his tank.


Photo Credit: Exoticsealife.net

3.Bamboo Shark

This is a smaller shark that includes seven different species. They typically get along really get along with other fish, but they have voracious appetites and might make a snack out of someone who looks like a tasty morsel. Feeding this type of shark a few times a day will keep her happy, but she is a bit more active than the Wobbegong, so a larger tank is a must so she can swim to her heart’s content.


4. Horn Shark

This shark is also known as within the aquarium trade as the Bullhead Shark is a good species of shark for aquarium life with its relatively small size (4 feet max) and slower swimming speeds. The Horn Shark has a spine at the front of the dorsal fin that it uses to protect itself from being swallowed by larger fish, but which can cause injury to people if not handled carefully. While the Horn Shark is smaller than many other shark species, it should be kept only by expert aquarists with very large aquariums. Horn Sharks are generally tan in color with some blotchy darker tan or brown areas and they may have a series of small black spots marking the body.

Horn Sharks have a very distinctive shark look to them, even though they only reach around 4 feet in length. The Horn Shark has its trademark spine at the front of the dorsal fin that it uses to protect itself from being swallowed by larger fish. While the Horn Shark is a suitable species for aquarium life, it can be a little difficult to acclimate to the aquarium at first. When first introduced into the aquarium, small pieces of cleaned squid or live saltwater feeder shrimp should be used to entice this fish to eat. To properly house the Horn Shark, the aquarium should be very large (300 gallons +) and should have a sand substrate bottom and some rock work to provide hiding places. A sand substrate is crucial as the Horn Shark will lay on the bottom of the tank often and crushed coral or aragonite substrates will cause scratches and irritation on the Horn Sharks abdomen.

The more active species (e.g., smoothhound sharks, genus Mustelus californicus) that spend more of their time swimming need a lot of room to move about. Although some of these sharks will occasionally rest on the sea floor, they spend more time swimming in the water column [EXPERTS ONLY‼️]

Photo Credit: lajollabluebook.com

5. Japanese Leopard Shark*

The Japanese Leopard Shark is unique in the aquarium hobby in that it maintains the classic shark look of its larger more aggressive cousins, while still maintaining an adult size that is manageable in a large aquarium environment. In fact, if fed properly a Japanese Leopard Shark can take close to 10 years to reach its adult size, making it suitable for many large marine aquariums. Japanese Leopard Sharks are often sold as juveniles ranging from 10 to 14 inches in size and can over time (8 to 10 years) reach sizes of 5 to 6 feet depending on sex. The Japanese Leopard Shark is a very active species with its leopard-like pattern and distinctive shark shape; however, it does require a large amount of open swimming space within a large aquarium 360 gallons minimum (500 gallons plus is what we recommend) with a chiller to thrive. It is extremely important that the Leopard Shark be provided with an aquarium that is at least as deep (from front to back) as the Japanese Leopard Shark is in length.

Photo Credit: finsunited.co.nz

6. Grey Smooth Hound Shark*

Young Grey Smooth Hounds can live in aquariums as small as 360 to 500 gallons in size, but will need to be moved to a larger aquarium or pond within 1 to 2 years time. On average the Grey Smooth Hound Shark is born at around 9 to 12 inches, will grow 6 to 8 inches per year until reaching its adult size in 2 to 3 years and will live an average life span of 6 years for males and up to 9 years for females. Like other shark species, the Grey Smooth Hound Shark should have a smooth sandy substrate, plenty of open swimming room with some rock or coral structures and a secure top to the aquarium to prevent the shark from jumping out. They have a thick muscular body for a shark their size and will put a significant load on both the mechanical and biological filtration. Therefore, filters for shark aquariums should be able to process large volumes of water and be able to efficiently remove large volumes of fish waste from the aquarium. It is recommended that a shark aquarium have a very large protein skimmer, significant biological filtration and regular water changes in order to maintain high quality water within the aquarium.
These are saltwater sharks for saltwater tanks, so be sure that you don’t put them into freshwater. Bigger is always better when selecting a tank for your shark. Specifically, you should choose one with a larger footprint: more length and width rather than height for the same volume of water. Sharks will utilize the added surface area. In the cases of the sharks, I will suggest, keep a rounded tank of at least 180 gallons for an adult specimen; a larger aquarium would even be better (e.g., 300-360 gallons).
We hope that you pick the perfect type of shark for you and your family as they are truly a wonder to behold. As with anything you plan to invest in, be sure to do plenty of research before you bring your shark home. Knowledge is power!
*Denotes Water Conditions: Can tolerate a range of water conditions from water temperatures between 62-75 F so we advise you invest into a Chiller before purchasing one of these shark species. Also, these Sharks are very powerful fish and can easily jump out of an aquarium where the top is not securely covered. Be sure that when keeping this species that the top is securely covered at all times.