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“Fred” the nurse shark makes his debut


Watch this video of nurse shark entering tank.

Our relationship with “Fred” began with an email. Our aquarium professionals’ list-serve occasionally includes postings for animals that need to be rehoused for a variety of reasons. Most of these fishes have outgrown their tanks at private residences and need more space; this is most often the case with large freshwater Amazonian species (e.g. pacu, redtail catfishes, etc) or shark species. Well-meaning fish hobbyists purchase these animals while they are young and still small, but they soon find out these types of animals are simply going to be too large to keep as mature animals. Such was the case with Fred. A couple in Long Island, NY appealed to the nearby public aquaria which posted their request to the list serve for a new home. Sadly, common animal species often do not get placed but more desirable species often find homes quickly. Many that do not, are often released into the wild to pose a problem for native wildlife (e.g. northern snakehead, lionfish). Whenever possible we try to accept animals that we can take for the sake of all involved.


Lionfish (above) are an invasive species thought to have been introduced from escaped/released pets.

I contacted the owners and after assuring them that he would be in good hands and would greatly benefit the animal to move from a 350 gallon tank to a 30,000 gallon tank. Thankfully for all involved they gratefully agreed to give us Fred, a three foot nurse shark, and we gratefully agreed to take him. But of course, you can’t simply mail a three foot shark – a live one anyway – so we needed to go to NY to pick him up. Immediately. Their house on the water was being raised (because of what happened during Hurricane Sandy) and the power would be off for months. I scheduled Fred’s pick up for two days later just after Thanksgiving. Our life-support set-up was a 300 gallon Rubbermaid trough tank with 12V re-circulation pump running water through an in-line carbon filter back to a spray bar return to the trough and additional aeration provided by three battery-powered aerators.

corey van

Corey checks systems on our transport bin before the trip to NY

The whole unit is covered with a heavy lid sealed at the edges with insulating foam to keep the system water tight (pictured above). We have used this system to successfully transfer many animals from large muskie to cobia to other shark species. Transportation of large fishes is common practice for public aquaria, but it is always stressful on the parties (people and shark) involved, albeit for different reasons. Long story short, Fred just rode the trip out quietly with plenty of space and traffic on 95 sucks,

Nurse sharks are a warm-water species and very common in the tropics but occasionally venture into temperate waters. They are one of the more sedentary shark species and largely nocturnal, laying still in on or near structure throughout the day and feeding by night.

fred cbq

Fred laying next to his favorite bucket in our holding tank – he often sleeps with his head in it.

Nurse sharks have an excellent sense of smell aided by barbels at the sides of their mouths, and peruse the bottom to feed on benthic invertebrates and crustaceans by sucking them from the substrate or simply crushing their shells. Nurse sharks are shy and docile to humans choosing to hide given the chance but are eager for food, making them an easy shark species to keep in captivity. Unfortunately, get too large – up to 200 lbs. – and powerful for any home aquarium in spite of their popularity. Fred’s new tank-mates are a variety of native Mid-Atlantic species including: cobia, bluefish, jacks, triple-tails, grouper, a sandbar shark, black drum, and a loggerhead sea turtle.

kay cba

Fred’s soon-to-be tank mate – “Kay” the sandbar shark – is a more active shark species.


  • John timber

    Its rounded shape and the pair of barbels give it a very catfish like look. In fact, the name “nurse shark” came from a type of cat fishes. Keeping a nurse shark is problematic in an aquarium because it needs much space. Let’s see how will you tackle this problem in future.

  • Trace Broyles

    Wow. How awesome. I am so excited for Fred. I love animals and see such beauty in them. I can’t wait to come see him. Again, I am so happy for him and so appreciative of people like you in this world. I am 100% sure that Fred would tell you how much he loves you if he could!