Did you know it’s possible to train sharks? The expert aquarists at SeaWorld and Discovery Cove in Orlando have done just that. They have learned that sharks have unique behavioral traits and that training them takes patience. Training allows veterinarians and aquarists to provide hands-on care to the animals and also enables guests to interact with the sharks up close.
Our aquarists share the top five facts they’ve learned in training sharks:
1. It takes time. Training a shark takes a great deal of patience. Aquarists use positive reinforcement only, including treats such as trout, salmon and clams. But because sharks are cold-blooded and some can be sedentary, they don’t eat much…or often. So, opportunities to reinforce them with food occur much less frequently than with other animals.
2. They can train to targets. Aquarists use a technique called “target training” to train sharks to follow a target. This allows the aquarists to direct animals to key locations in their environment. The team can then interact with the sharks to monitor their health and also provide guests a closer look.
3. They play favorites. Our aquarists have found each shark responds differently to training. Some sharks are very relaxed when held a certain way, and some sharks show a preference for certain aquarists.
4. They can be picky eaters. Sharks tend to be finicky about their food, which affects the way the animals interact during a training session. Sharks have individually discerning tastes. Some gobble up salmon and trout, but take a pass on squid and mackerel.
5. Personalities come into play. Aquarists see personality traits heighten during training sessions. For example, male zebra sharks have been known to compete with one another for the aquarist’s attention. If one is interacting with the aquarist, others are likely to swim over and push their way in. Blacktip and whitetip sharks are especially playful and curious, and like to move around and dig in the sand in their environments. Some even like sand sprinkled on their backs.