This Is The Reason Why You Never See Great White Sharks In Aquariums

While there is great contention around SeaWorld and some of its practices, it’s inarguable how breathtaking it is to orcas in captivity, up close and personal. It’s an amazing experience to see an animal that we would normally never interact with and get an idea of what life in the ocean is like. There is one notorious ocean animal that very few of us have ever seen in an aquarium – the great white shark.

Source: Elias Levy

While many aquariums house sharks, and lots of sharks at that, one of the most famous shark species poses a particular challenge to marine biologists when it comes to housing them in captivity. In the 1970s and 1980s, lining up with the release of Jaws, many aquariums tried to feature great white sharks in their aquariums, only to have them die merely days later. Up until the 2000s, the longest any great white shark ever lived in captivity was sixteen days. “In most cases it could be said that all these captive sharks were in the process of dying, with some taking longer than others,” according to a 1984 report from the Steinhart Aquarium.

Sharks are cartilaginous fish, like rays and skates, and like all fish cannot actively pump water over their gills, which they need to do to facilitate gas exchange. Some fish can emulate active pumping by opening and closing their mouths, but great whites have to swim with a relatively strong speed with their mouths open to flush water over their gills.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has been the only successful aquarium to keep great whites, and ultimately released all of them back into the wild. The Monterey Bay Aquarium never kept a great white in captivity for more than about six months due to health concerns and increasing aggressiveness, but ultimately discontinued the program in 2011 due to overall health problems that sharks they kept would receive from running into glass walls and the massive resource costs of the program.