St. Louis Children's Aquarium

Shark Room

This room was designed in the motif of a dockside pier with step-ups and a mirrored ceiling to ensure all visitors great and small can get a clear view. The center of attraction is a 17,000-gallon circular exhibit with over 150 fishes including several species of sharks, moray eels, a Kemps Ridley sea turtle, horse-eye jacks and other assorted oceanic fishes in an ecosystem display. Above this pool hangs a giant replica of a hammerhead shark with razor-sharp teeth. The teeth are real and the shark replica’s size was designed based on the size of those teeth. In the pool, we have several of each of the following sharks: nurse shark, lemon shark, black tip reef shark, and a sand tiger shark. The nurse shark is a benthic, bottom-dwelling species with barbels or feelers sticking out around their mouth. Nurse sharks were named for the giant sucking noise they make when they eat. This sound is due to the high-powered section they use, stronger than any vacuum cleaner on the market today. The other species of sharks in this large exhibit are pelagic, more active sharks.

Lemon Sharks are active throughout the day and the night. Their bodies are a yellowish brown color, hence the name. Black Tip Reef Sharks are easily identifiable by the black tips on each fin. These are a smaller species of shark only growing to be about 6 feet. Their teeth are sharp and serrated for seizing fishes. Sand Tiger Sharks swim slowly and keep their mouths open while swimming, exposing hundreds of their sharp teeth. Juveniles have reddish-brown freckles on the sides of their bodies. In the womb, the shark babies in the two chambers eat each other until only two, the strongest, remain until birth.

Viewing a preserved shark is most likely the safest way to do so. We have preserved sharks for close, careful viewing by the public. Such species include a Tiger Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, and a Sawfish. Tiger sharks are infamous for their attacks on humans throughout history. This shark will eat just about anything it can get its teeth on. The teeth are heavily serrated and curve backwards towards the throat. The tiger shark’s teeth along with its strong jaws and body allow it to cut through bodies of large sea turtles. Scalloped hammerhead sharks have distinct rounded (scalloped) edges on their heads, thus increasing the surface area and increased sensitivity of their sensory organs for finding prey. This shark is fast and can catch large, elusive prey. In all, we have over 40 sharks on display at the St. Louis Children’s Aquarium.

A humorous sign with the words “Do not touch. Signed, Three Finger Larry” also hangs above this pool to drive home the point that the inhabitants of this pool have lots of teeth and can do some significant damage. The Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle would be the most feared inhabitant of our shark tank due to the great amount of damage she would do in one bite. These creatures are very curious and wouldn’t intentionally hurt a person when they bite, but are only interested in finding out if a person is good to eat. Human’s are not normally on a sea turtle’s diet. All sea turtles are endangered, but the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle is the most endangered due to its small size (it’s the smallest sea turtle species). Other causes of endangerment are that people eat sea turtles and sea turtle eggs, their skins are used for leather goods, and their shells make attractive showpieces.

We have Green Moray Eels that inhabit our shark tank. Just look for the pickle green creatures with their heads or tails sticking out of our tubes or the live rock. Many people are repulsed by the appearance of eels in general due to their snake-like appearance and sinuous movement. Eels are fish and have gills. Some can breathe air for short periods of time, but all in all they are water animals.

Each corner of the room has a hands-on touch pool where visitors can touch a baby nurse shark, fountain crabs, hermit crabs and other various marine creatures.

The “Pet A Shark” Exhibit is the most popular touch area in the museum because of its uniqueness. Most children and adults have never touched a living shark and are thrilled to have this experience. Sharks have a different type of scale compared to other fishes. Their scales are called dermal dentricles because they feel like small sharp teeth all over the body. Most people who pet our nurse shark say it feels like sandpaper. Sharkskin used to be used as sandpaper before this luxury was created.

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