Blacktip Reef is a breathtaking, award-winning exhibit full of color, light and movement located in the heart of National Aquarium. This coral-filled exhibit, replicating Indo-Pacific reefs, is active with life that guests can experience from many vantage points, including a new floor-to-ceiling pop-out viewing window that allows guests to virtually come face to face with the animals.
5 Secrets of Blacktip Reef
Even if you spent a full day in the National Aquarium’s Blacktip Reef exhibit, you would never learn all of the fascinating facts about its many animals, which range from blacktip reef sharks and tasseled wobbegongs to a 500-pound green sea turtle and honeycomb stingrays. But thanks to these insider secrets provided by our knowledgeable staff and volunteers, you’re about to know more than most visitors.
1. Our blacktip reef sharks are longtime buddies.
One of the unique characteristics about blacktip reef sharks is their camaraderie. These big fish often swim in schools in the wild, and our school of blacktip reef sharks are no different. They lived together in our Animal Care Center for 18 months before moving into their new home in Blacktip Reef, giving them plenty of bonding time before the big day.
2. Calypso is a foodie.
Many visitors mistakenly believe that Calypso, our beloved 500-pound green sea turtle, eats only lettuce. While she does consume her fair share of romaine, Calypso also enjoys sweet potatoes, carrots, Brussels sprouts and squid.
3. Our tasseled wobbegong shark has a secret hiding place.
The tasseled wobbegong shark is tricky to spot—its ornate camouflaged exterior is easily mistaken for a piece of coral. But if you look closely at the left corner of our underwater viewing area, you’re likely to notice her resting in her favorite spot near the glass.
4. The coral reef isn’t made of real coral.
Real barrier reefs can take 100,000 to 30 million years to fully form, so growing our own coral wasn’t an option. Instead, we painstakingly crafted our own—all 3,000 pieces of it—from the molds of real coral skeletons. Now it serves as colorful shelter for our diverse array of Indo-Pacific fish.
5. Zebra sharks are spotted, not striped.
The zebra sharks found in Blacktip Reef don’t appear to have stripes at all, but that wasn’t always the case. As juveniles, zebra sharks—often mistakenly called leopard sharks—have dark bodies with yellowish stripes. This pattern transforms into small dark spots on a grayish-tan background as they age.
Animals in This Exhibit
The blacktip reef shark is named for the easily recognizable black tips on its dorsal and caudal fins.
The clown triggerfish is one of the most desirable fish for aquariums because of its unique appearance.
Male emperor angelfish are territorial, and they will defend their living space, as well as the few females they share it with. This area can be as large as 10,760 square feet.
The shells of sea turtles are lighter and more hydrodynamic than the shells of turtles that live on land, allowing them to glide easily through water.
The guineafowl puffer has a rounded body covered with prickles, and is generally brown or golden in color, depending on life stage. The color can be highly variable.
The harlequin tuskfish is a solitary animal, but it can be aggressive and territorial at times.
The colossal humphead wrasse, also called the Napoleon wrasse, is one of the largest fish inhabiting coral reefs. It is easily identifiable by its thick lips, prominent bump on its forehead and two black lines behind its eyes. The coloring of humphead wrasses can range from a dull blue-green to brilliant shades of green or purplish-blue.
The reticulated whiptail ray, has a light brown body with dark brown spots. Its underside, however, is a solid off-white. Its snout is pointed, and when intact, its tail can reach three times its body size. The tail usually has one barb on it.
The slingjaw wrasse is a very peculiar fish because it folds its jaw under its head when not in use and extends it from its body when it needs to catch food.
Adult spotted unicornfish can be anywhere from bluish gray to olive brown in color.
The wobbegong has a wide, flat body that sports a series of dark lines and splotches against a pale background. This pattern helps it disappear amid the ocean floor.
These zebras lose their stripes! As juveniles, these sharks have dark bodies with yellowish stripes. As they mature, the pattern changes to small dark spots on a grayish-tan background.
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