Why do sharks die in captivity

Wildlife in aquariumswhite Sharks to die in captivity

Great white sharks often only survive a few days in captivity. The biologist Mario Ludwig explains what causes this.

Since the 1970s there have been repeated attempts to keep great white sharks in aquariums around the world. After all, that would drive up the number of visitors enormously. However, great white sharks have never survived that long in captivity: they often die after a few weeks or even a few days.

After just three days, a three-and-a-half meter great white shark died in the Japanese Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. His condition had deteriorated dramatically within a very short time. For comparison: In the wild, great white sharks can live up to 70 years.

Confined and no living prey

There are speculations as to why great white sharks do not survive in captivity. They often cover hundreds of kilometers a day in the open ocean. A comparatively small area is available to them in the aquarium. This makes the great white sharks not only aggressive, but probably also depressed.

Also, great white sharks only eat live prey in the wild. In aquariums, however, they are usually only offered dead animals. This is why great white sharks often refuse to eat in captivity, says biologist Mario Ludwig. And often the water quality does not seem to be suitable for great white sharks.

Disorientation due to technology - aquariums can confuse sharks

Sharks have a highly sensitive sensory system with which they can perceive electrical fields from prey. These so-called Lorenzini ampoules are extremely important for sharks to catch prey, but also for orientation.

Researchers suspect that the glass panes and the technical equipment of the aquarium may confuse this sensory system and make the sharks disoriented.

A crowd puller: the great white shark of Monterey Bay

In 2005, a young female great white shark caught fishermen off the coast of California. The process of getting used to the aquarium was cautious: biologists first accustomed the animal to captivity in a huge sea cage near Malibu.

Subsequently, the approximately one and a half year old female great white shark lived for six months in the aquarium of Monterey Bay. However, she was then released due to problems.

Monterey Bay Shark develops hunting instinct

Biologists attribute the fact that the female shark apparently felt at home in the aquarium to the fact that the fish has grown significantly in size and weight: from one and a half meters to 1.90 meters.

As the great white shark got bigger, it started hunting the other fish in the tank. For example, within a few days the female great white shark bitten to death two smaller dog sharks.

Headline - Great White Shark Bites Back to Freedom

To avoid further deaths, the aquarium management has decided to release the great white shark back into the sea. At that time the newspapers ran the headline: Great white shark bites its way back into freedom.

The fact that this great white shark survived for six months in the aquarium may be due to the fact that it was carefully accustomed to captivity. At the beginning of captivity, the shark was relatively young and small, which made it easier to feed. Because young great white sharks feed on fish, adults on seals, turtles and small whales.