What's tan and gray and spotted all over? Zuri the zebra shark, the newest resident of Blacktip Reef! She was born in January 2016 at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and later that year, she was moved to Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. While zebra sharks are typically a fairly peaceful species, the dynamics in her exhibit at Columbus did not work and her caretakers decided that finding a new home would be best.
The National Aquarium was chosen as her new residence, and our team traveled to Columbus in March of this year to transfer Zuri back to Baltimore. Upon arrival, she spent 90 days in observational quarantine—a standard amount of time for a new shark—at the Animal Care and Rescue Center, which gave her time to settle in and for our team to get to know her.
"After we realized she was comfortable enough and acclimated to her environment, we started introducing divers to her tank to clean the exhibit and also to observe her and just desensitize her to divers because there are a lot of divers [in Blacktip Reef]," Animal Care and Rescue Center Aquarist Laura Abrams explained. "So, we started diving with her regularly just to see how she would react, and she did great with it. She was very curious, but very timid at first. The more we dove with her she came closer and closer and was curious about us. She's very calm and quiet about it; she's very gentle."
On July 1, she was given a full exam including bloodwork, an ultrasound and a gill check and she passed with flying colors. When a shark like Zuri needs to undergo an exam, a team of staff members will gently turn the shark over so its laying on its back, putting the animal into a calm, trance-like state called tonic immobility. This process allows our team to perform exams without having to sedate the animal.
According to Animal Care and Rescue Center Curator Ashleigh Clews, Zuri has a healthy appetite and began eating well as soon as she arrived in the ACRC. She was target trained in Columbus—meaning that staff places a target in the water during feeding time, and she's trained to touch that target to receive food—and our staff has continued her target training since her arrival in Baltimore. Her favorite food items include squid, mackerel and herring—though she doesn't appear to be a fan of shrimp and smelt—and she weighs a healthy 55 pounds.
On August 26, Zuri was transferred from the Animal Care and Rescue Center to Blacktip Reef, where she joins Zoe, the female zebra shark that has been an Aquarium resident since 1998. According to Laura, Zuri wasn't timid about exploring her new surroundings.
"She was very curious; she explored the whole exhibit," Laura explained. "I think it took a couple days for her to realize Zoe was there though—it was a lot to take in."
Zebra sharks get their name from the striped pattern found on juveniles. As these sharks age, their stripes are replaced with spots.
Many guests may remember Zeke, the male zebra shark that formerly resided in Blacktip Reef with Zoe. Zeke is a young male and had repeatedly exhibited mating behaviors toward Zoe, and while these behaviors were natural, they were causing stress for Zoe, who would stop eating periodically and had to be moved to the ACRC to decompress.
Our staff made the decision to find a new home for Zeke and he now resides at the New Jersey SEA LIFE Aquarium. He was moved on March 9 and has been adjusting well!