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A shark swims in the Wild Reef exhibit at Shedd Aquarium.

Sandbar Shark

Sandbar sharks, the largest sharks in Wild Reef, are always on the move. That's because they are obligate ram ventilators, a fun scientific term that simply means they have to swim nonstop, pushing oxygen-filled water over their gills, to breathe. They're also the "sharkiest"-looking sharks among the others because of the tall, triangular dorsal fin, which keeps them steady as they glide through the water.

A sandbar shark in wild reef cruises by the curved, floor-to-ceiling side of the habitat as guests look on.

A wide-ranging shark

Sandbar sharks are found in nearly every temperate or tropical coastal habitat around the world, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mediterranean to the Galapagos Islands to the Indo-Pacific. These dusky brown predators prefer to stick close to the sandy ocean floor—hence their name—where they hunt bony fishes, smaller sharks and rays, octopuses, shrimps and snails. Among Shedd's sharks, the big sandbars are some of the lightest eaters. A 150-pound female might take 2½ pounds of food three times a week. They are also picky, and each sandbar has favorite foods!

Slow growth + small litters = a conservation problem

Sandbars are among the shark species that bear live young. Small litters every other year or two are balanced by the slow-maturing species' longevity, and older, larger females produce more pups—between seven and 13. Due to overfishing, including illegal finning, however, they don't always get that chance. Sandbar populations in the southwestern Atlantic were especially hard hit by overfishing several decades ago. Only through fishery regulations have their numbers begun to increase. Continued research into shark biology, in the field and in aquariums, and effective protections, including marine sanctuaries, are needed to help these elegant predators survive.

Meet the Sharks

From reef sharks in constant motion to small deep-ocean sharks resting vertically on a rock wall, these awe-inspiring predators are found across our oceans—and throughout Shedd Aquarium. Elegantly slicing through the water, each is different from the next, but all display an eye-catching mixture of beauty and grace. Look closer at the sharks that call Shedd home.

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