Just like it’s a good idea to go get a checkup every now and then from your doctor, our sharks get checked out from time to time as well. Just recently, we have given most of our sharks their annual physical checkups. Of course, the sharks can’t go to the doctor, so we bring the doctor (one of our staff veterinarians) to them.
At least once a year, we will transfer each shark into our holding area of the shark exhibit to weigh and measure them, draw a blood sample and give them a look over to monitor their health. All of this information is recorded on computer and compared to past years. I bet you are wondering how we do all of this. Well, the first step is getting the sharks into the holding pool, a 4 feet deep section attached to the exhibit. For some of the sharks, such as Brown (aka Sandbar) Sharks, Blacktip Sharks and Zebra Sharks, they will swim into the holding area for us. During their feeds, they are conditioned to follow a target buoy into the holding area. This conditioning means that they will voluntarily swim in, with or without food. Other sharks, like our Sand Tiger Sharks are pulled into a large, square net and transferred into the holding area, without being pulled out of the water.
Once we have a single shark in our holding area, this is when we can get important information that we need to keep all of our sharks in tip-top health. The shark will swim into a stretcher, to allow us to weigh it from a hanging scale. Weights are the most important information for us to have, since the sharks are fed about 1-2% of their body weight in food per week. According to senior 1 aquarist, Beth Reardon, “Knowing the weights of the sharks you are feeding is very important, because you do not want to overfeed them. They are cold-blooded and have a slow metabolism.” In nature, sharks are opportunistic predators that may only find food once or twice a month.
We will also measure the sharks to see how much longer they are than they were last year, as well as how big around they are (the girths of the shark). The veterinarian will also draw a small amount of blood to be analyzed in our laboratory to check the overall health of the sharks. After the physicals are over, the sharks are returned to the exhibit, to go back to their daily activities.
The health of each and every one of our animals here at SeaWorld San Antonio is very important to us. We are so lucky to have the veterinarian staff that we do so we can offer the best care that is available.