#53: Our Reef Residents - Giant Ocean Tank Shark Exams

The Giant Ocean Tank Dive Team and the Aquarium Health Division recently joined forces to begin a series of shark medical exams. After weeks of planning, the first two of four exams were scheduled for August 4 (Bimini the nurse shark) and August 6 (Markham the sand tiger shark).

Staff and volunteers arrived at 6:00 a.m. to begin the preparation process. Shark exams require an enormous amount of planning as well as a lot of highly specialized equipment.

Divers prepare for step one; the injectable anesthesia.

Waiting for the right moment....

Got it!

Once the injectable anesthesia has taken effect (shark is a bit groggy), divers use a wand attached to a spray bottle full of liquid anesthesia to further anesthetize the animal. The liquid anesthesia has a sleep like effect, much like anesthesia that is used on humans. Additional divers use long poles with tennis balls on the ends to help direct the shark towards the wand.

Once it is determined that the shark is drowsy enough to handle, divers use the poles to gently guide him into the stretcher.

Once the shark is secure in the stretcher, divers bring him to the surface.

The stretcher is then lifted out of the water using an electronic hoist

Staff carefully lower the shark into a fiberglass box especially designed for shark exams.

Bimini was a bit light on anesthesia, and made quite a fuss when placed in the exam box. She eventually settled down nicely.

A hose within a PVC tube that is attached to a pump is placed in the shark's mouth. This ensures a constant flow of water; important for respiration.

The veterinarians now prepare for the medical examination.

The shark is measured and a blood sample is taken.

The most challenging part of the exam is radiographs. The shark has to be taken out of the water and placed on the radiograph plate. When not breathing the anesthetized water, the shark can wake up, so this has to be done very quickly.

Once the exam is completed, the shark is returned to the exhibit in much the same way that he/she was removed. They are brought to the bottom in a stretcher, and observed closely by the dive staff until they are up and swimming.

Stay tuned the next exams will be in early September with Judith and Galilee ...

- Sherrie



  1. Very cool blog entry. The sharks are so beautiful and NEAQ takes great care of them.

  2. Sherrie, this was probably the best entry in the GOT blog this year. Its fascinating to see the similarites and the contrasts that the sharks have with the turtles when it comes to check-ups (I was fortunate enough to be at the aquarium for the latter a few years ago).

    Would there be any possibility of getting a chance to try and videotape one of the next two checkups to try and make a documentary of it? That would be a fantastic challenge for me to involve myself in.


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