How to Buy and Care for a Pet Shark

Updated on July 6, 2019
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EverydayGreen is a serious DIY addict and has practiced green and frugal living her entire life. She is a freshwater fish enthusiast.

So You Want to Get a Pet Shark?

If you are serious about wanting to buy a pet shark, it's going to cost you some serious cash. True, sharks are much too large for the standard aquarium that you find in most homes. The minimum recommended size for a shark tank depends on the type of shark you want to keep. The range varies from 180 gallons to over 10,000 gallons. The tank will then have to be fitted with a saltwater filtration system and properly cycled before you can even think about making a shark purchase. Here's an idea of what it takes to build your own shark tank.

  • How to Buy the Pet Shark That Is Right For You
  • Preparing Your Home Aquarium for Your Pet Shark
  • Where to Buy a Pet Shark
  • Freshwater Aquarium Sharks
  • Acclimating and Caring for Your Pet Shark
  • A Pro Tip for Potential Shark Owners

How to Buy the Pet Shark That Is Right for You

If you have the funds to purchase a pet shark and all of the necessary equipment, then you need to do some research to decide which shark will give you the most enjoyment. If you are looking for a shark for a 180-gallon tank, consider one of the following:

  • Marbled Catshark (Atelomycterus macleayi) - grows to about 24"
  • Coral Catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus) - grows to about 28"
  • Gray Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium griseum) - grows to about 30"
  • White-spotted Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium plagiosum) - grows to about 36"

If you are looking to go larger, a 500-gallon tank could accommodate any of the following:

  • California Horn Shark (Heterodontus francisci) - grows to about 38-40"
  • Brown-banded Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) - grows to 40"
  • Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) - grows to 42"
  • Japanese Wobbegong (Orectolobus japonicus) - grows to 42"

All of the sharks mentioned above are relatively hardy and can be kept by anyone who has experience with saltwater fish or reef aquariums. They can be sensitive to nitrate levels (as low as 10-20 ppm) and do need a high flow rate, but other than that, most of these sharks are happy in a standard reef environment.

A 1,000-gallon tank can accommodate Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) or Whitetip (Triaenodon obesus) sharks. These sharks can grow anywhere from 48" to 60" and can be kept with a variety of reef fish as long as they are adequately fed.

In some cases, you will be offered nurse sharks because of their docile nature. Do not buy a nurse shark unless you have a 15,000-gallon pool to keep it in. Nurse sharks can grow to lengths of up to 14 feet.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A small spotted Catshark egg sack.A young Blacktip shark.
A small spotted Catshark egg sack.
A small spotted Catshark egg sack.
A young Blacktip shark.
A young Blacktip shark.

Preparing Your Home Aquarium for Your Shark

Before you buy a pet shark, you need to have an aquarium ready for it. Sharks are extremely sensitive to water conditions, and not having the correct tank ready for their arrival is a death sentence. Your tank should be set-up and running with a high water filtration rate (at least 6 full water cycles per hour). Outfit your tank with a sandy bottom and live rock and run it through an entire nitrogen cycle before adding your shark. This could take up to 6 months depending on the method you use to cycle the tank. Once the ammonia and nitrite fixing bacteria have reached stable levels, then you can bring your new pet shark home.

Where to Buy a Pet Shark

There aren't many places to buy an actual shark. Shark Supply and Fresh Marine are two reputable websites that offer several sharks for sale. In addition, Sharks for Sale has listings from both local and international dealers.

If you are a novice, stick with the varieties mentioned above. There will be several others to choose from, but they are best left to those who already have shark-keeping experience. Purchasing from an exotic pet shop that caries sharks near you will be much better than going for the online buy. The shop owner will likely know quite a bit about the particular shark and may even be able to put you in contact with the breeder. Having these kinds of connections is invaluable when you are starting out with a new shark. Keep in mind, most of the top breeders are located along the Florida and Georgia coastline. The Florida Tropical Fish Farm Association keeps an up-to-date listing of all authorized shark breeders in the area.

If your local dealer has a shark available to purchase, look for the following in the shark tank:

  • Cleanliness with no sign of algae or debris.
  • No spots or blemishes on the shark's body as these could be signs of fungal infection.
  • Fully-extended fins because they are the number one sign that a shark is healthy. Sick sharks pull their fins in.

Once you buy your shark, it will be shipped in a box that will allow the shark to swim around. Most shippable sharks are pups because they can be shipped in smaller boxes. The minimum shipping size of the box will be at least one and a half times as wide and three to four times as long the shark. Shipping can be quite expensive once the size of the box and the weight of the shark and water is considered. Sometimes shipping costs more than the shark itself. The bamboo shark, horn shark, coralcat or wobbie pup, are often shipped in tiny 5-gallon containers and are by far the best value.

Freshwater Aquarium Sharks

If you are looking for a freshwater aquarium shark for your existing home tank, you'll want to look at some of the "fake" sharks common to freshwater fish keeping. These sharks are actually members of the Cyprinidae family (related to carp) and include red-tailed and rainbow sharks. Red-tails usually grow to about 6 inches in length on average, but can reach up to 9. Rainbows top out at 5 inches.

However, both are quite aggressive and may work well with a group of 6 or more sharks. If you plan to keep more than one shark, it’s better to buy at least six more. Anything less than that may cause a problem because one shark would try to dominate the rest. If they are more than six, domination is impossible, so they get along better.

And Here's a Real Shark

This Blacktip reef shark requires a 10,000 gallon tank!
This Blacktip reef shark requires a 10,000 gallon tank!

Acclimating and Caring for Your Pet Shark

When your shark arrives, don't just toss it in the tank. The shock of the water change will most likely kill it. Even if it doesn't kill your shark, it will cause it undue stress that could lead to long-term infection and susceptibility to disease. Remove half of the water from the shipping container and dispose of it. Your shark should still have plenty of water covering the gills, if not, only drain the water until it reaches gill level. Use an air hose to siphon water from your set-up tank into the shipping container. This will slowly change the water chemistry of the shipping container and make it closer to the tank water. Once the container is filled to its original level, empty half of the water again and siphon water from the tank to replace it. Do this a third time and then introduce your shark to your tank.

Once your shark is acclimated to its new habitat (a day or two after initial introduction), begin the feeding regiment. You should feed your shark two or three times a week, and use a variety of different foods. Sharks like meaty foods including shrimp, squid, crabs, tilapia and other whitefish. Sharks are known to be messy eaters, but will usually finish off every last bite of a good-sized meal. If there is leftover food, remove it from the tank (or allow a living clean-up crew to do it for you).

Keep a close eye on the filtration system, and do weekly water checks for nitrite and nitrate levels. Even a small amount of nitrate can cause stress on a shark. This is why you should also have your filtration system on a back-up generator to prevent interruptions in filtration.

A well-cared-for shark can easily give you enjoyment for 12 to 25 years or more.

A Pro Tip for Potential Shark Owners

Join an online forum with other shark owners. They are an invaluable source of information and can make your shark owning experience much more easier and enjoyable.

Shark and Ray Central and Aquatic Community are two of the most active.

If you do buy a pet shark, please share your story below. It doesn't matter if you are new to shark keeping, looking to start or a seasoned veteran—I'd love to hear from you. Leave a comment, ask a question or send in a photo of your pride and joy!

How Big Is Your Home Aquarium?

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Everyday Green


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    • profile image

      Wannabe epaulette shark breeder 

      2 weeks ago

      Are epaulettes legal in az

    • profile image

      Shark pal 

      9 months ago

      Thank you very much for writing this article. I am thinking about getting a pet shark.

    • Everyday Green profile imageAUTHOR

      Everyday Green 

      6 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks CyberShelley,

      Not too many people are equipped to keep sharks at their homes, but they are like any other exotic pet. You just need to learn about them and have the cash on hand for all of their expenses. Actually, because sharks are kept in secure environments, they have the distinct advantage of not needing to be licensed in most jurisdictions (unlike other exotic pets).

    • CyberShelley profile image

      Shelley Watson 

      6 years ago

      Fascinating article - not something I realised ordinary people did - thought only city aquariums kept sharks. Thanks for the knowledge and the great pictures. Up, beautiful, interesting and useful.


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