Sharks to room with Academy of Sciences penguins


The pajama sharks are named for their striped skin. They were born in an aquarium in Portugal and six of them are now adjusting to life behind-the-scenes at the Academy of Sciences' Steinhart Aquarium. Pretty soon, they will be moving. "We're looking to add them in our penguin exhibit," senior biologist Nancy Levine said.

That is right. They will be sharing a 25,000-gallon exhibit tank. "The sharks are actually pretty docile. They're easily approached by divers in the wild, so they are not a threat to the penguins, we don't suspect," Levine said. They may not be a threat, but biologists want to make sure the two species do not wind up in a food fight.

The penguins are fed twice a day by hand. Before the sharks move in, they have to learn to eat in a different part of the exhibit at a different time. "That transfer is going to be a very delicate process," Levine said. She is in charge of training the pajama sharks. First, she puts a piece of fish near a target. Then, she rings bells under the water. "We're trying to teach them that bells and vibration in the water means that there is food in the water, so that they can start looking for it and know that it's feeding time," she explained.

Their eyesight is not very good, but they do have a great sense of smell. "They use all the senses available to them in order to survive in the wild," Levine said. Sharks do not naturally eat on command, so it takes weeks of work and experimentation to figure out the best way to let them know it is time to eat and where to find the food. "In the end, this is going to be great for them because we can keep track of how much each shark is eating and we can get a good visual on each individual if they come to us to feed," said Levine.

Biologists are putting the sharks and penguins together because in the wild, they are actually part of the same ecosystem, a temperate water environment in Southern Africa. African penguins are an endangered species and the sharks' habitat is under serious threat. The penguins may be a little cuter, but the biologists hope visitors will also learn to love the sharks who live life in their PJs.

The sharks will grow to about three feet or so. Biologists say the penguins are actually a bigger threat to the sharks than the other way around. If the training goes as planned, the sharks should be in the penguin tank by April.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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