While thousands of adrenaline enthusiasts, adventure fanatics and brave tourists go Great White Shark cage diving in Gansbaai every year, many people who can’t find the courage to do so have headed to many an aquarium with the intention of viewing the sharks in captivity. Despite having the best intentions – to learn more about the creature and safely observe them – they’ll find themselves out of luck; Great White Sharks are not kept in captivity, for a multitude of reasons; critically, they do not survive.
Scientists and biologists around the world have tried various methods of breeding and introducing Great White Sharks into captivity, but have all done so without much luck. Recently, a female Great White Shark reached a new record; surviving 44 days in a million-gallon tank housed at Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, eating four pounds of salmon, mackerel and one sardine. Following its release, it died a week later. The previous record was set in August 1981 when a great white shark lasted 16 days at SeaWorld in San Francisco before being released back into the ocean after refusing to eat.
So why is it that Great White Sharks are not or cannot be kept in captivity? There are many theories:
- They are open water fish and cannot be confined. Tagged sharks have been known to swim hundreds of kilometres within a matter of days. This exercise and freedom is essential to their contentment
- They get depressed in captivity. Great White Sharks that are kept within tanks have been known to head butt their `noses into the glass walls and lose their appetites. It has also been noted that they get increasingly aggressive in their depressed state
- Great White Sharks are incredibly expensive to keep as they kill and eat all other creatures in their tanks. Aquariums would have to continuously restock a tank or dedicate an extremely large tank for the sharks to solely live (impossible as a tank would have to be kilometres long)
- They refuse to be fed by humans, leading them to either die of starvation or be released into the wild. As predators, great white sharks are natural hunters and need the thrill of the hunt to survive – they will not survive on already dead small fish
- Many people believe that sharks become depressed and even die in captivity due to aquariums using incorrect water solutions, without enough saline. As Great White Sharks are saltwater species, it’s absolutely crucial that the correct balance is maintained
- Great White Sharks are a logistical nightmare for aquariums; not only do they have to capture them safely but they have to transport them and relocate them into a tank, all the while keeping them in water
- Due to their size and aggressive disposition, great white sharks are incredibly hard to handle – most people would rather not go through the hassle and dangers of coming into contact with them, especially as keeping them content and alive in captivity is so difficult
There are countless theories as to why Great White Sharks have not yet been successfully bred and kept in captivity. Despite the successes of the recent five-week record and previous 16-day survival of a Great White Shark in captivity, a single Great White Shark has never survived in a tank in an aquarium. When it comes to seeing Great White Sharks, Gansbaai in the Western Cape of South Africa is undeniably the best and safest way to see these incredible creatures swimming happily in their natural habitat for yourself. It only takes a 15-minute boat ride to where the Sharks are found and they are seen throughout the year every day with 99.5% chance of seeing a great white shark on a trip.
View part 2 here: Why great white sharks cannot be kept in captivity part 2
Find out more about the lifespan of sharks: How long Sharks Live for.