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Sharks at Shedd — Wild Reef

Wild Reef is home to more than 20 sharks. They range from the blacktip reef sharks and sandbar sharks that constantly cruise in the mid- to upper-level waters of the exhibit’s central 400,000-gallon habitat to the slow-swimming zebra sharks and sedentary bottom-dwelling bamboo sharks and wobbegongs.

A blacktip reef shark, with its iconic triangular fins, cruises through Wild Reef.

The blacktip reef sharks look like their dorsal fins have been dipped in black paint.

Sandbar sharks have a classic shark profile with a triangular dorsal fin and a streamlined body shape designed for constant movement.

The sandbars are the “sharkiest”-looking of the group.

Blacktip and Sandbar Sharks

The blacktipand sandbarsare called obligate ram ventilators, a fun scientific term that simply means that they have to keep swimming to push oxygen-carrying water over their gills so that they can breathe. The blacktips are pretty easy to identify — their dorsal fin looks like it’s been dipped in black paint. The sandbars — silver, sleek and slicing the water with a tall dorsal fin — are the “sharkiest”-looking of the group.

Spotted Wobbegong

Spotted wobbegongs are also known as carpet sharks, partly because their ornate markings resemble an Oriental rug and partly because they lie flat on the shallow reef floor. These are not aggressive sharks, but woe to the wader or swimmer who accidentally treads on one. Wobbegongs are equipped with razor-sharp recurved teeth (for grabbing small prey), and when they bite in self-defense, they hang on. Because their habitat coincides with popular coastal recreational areas, wobbegongs account for more nonfatal shark bites than any other species in their native Australian waters.

A spotted wobbegong on the habitat floor at Shedd Aquarium
Juvenile whitespotted bamboo sharks have thinner bodies and more pronounced facial features.

White-spotted Bamboo Shark

The beautifully patterned white-spotted bamboo sharkis another carpet shark, distantly related to the wobbegongs. A mere 3 feet long, these sharks prey at night on small fishes and crustaceans, using their small teeth to grab and crush.

Zebra shark pups have a long, thin body and a very long, striped tail.

Only the pups have stripes suggestive of zebras.

A zebra shark swims in the Shedd Aquarium

Adult zebra sharks are spotted.

Zebra Shark

“Playful” usually isn’t the first word people use to describe sharks, but it can apply to the zebra sharks. One female likes to swim through the air bubbles expelled by scuba divers cleaning the large habitat. This species is also prolific. More than 80 zebra shark pups have hatched at Shedd — 86 of them from eggs laid by super mom Cleo. Her offspring have been shared with about 16 other U.S. aquariums. By the way, only the pups have stripes suggestive of zebras. The adult zebra sharks are spotted.