Saltwater Pet Shark Safety Tips and Best Practices

Adding a pet shark to your saltwater aquarium is a rewarding milestone for many advanced aquarium keepers. Maintaining a shark tank should be considered very carefully, as many of these species require lots of space and pristine water quality. And, given a shark’s nature, it’s important to consider that any other fish and invertebrates in your shark fish tank may end up as a snack.

Overall, keeping sharks as pets is very fulfilling and can be exceedingly enjoyable—if you’re good at dealing with a very needy fish.

Can You Have a Pet Shark?

There are many popular saltwater pet sharks, including:

  • Cat shark

  • Epaulette shark

  • Horn shark

  • Short-Tail Nurse Shark

  • Speckled carpet shark

Choosing a small shark for an aquarium will come down to your preferred aesthetic, how active you want your shark to be during the day, and the size of your saltwater tank.

If you want a highly decorative tank with lots of corals and other fish, choose a pet shark that will stick to the bottom of the tank, such as the Short-Tail Nurse shark. If seeing a swimming shark is important to you, consider Horn sharks.

Best Practices for Your Fish Tank with Sharks

Sharks are very sensitive animals, so their acclimation and introduction to a new tank is critical to their survival. Your supplier should give you detailed instructions on handling and feeding new additions. Most sharks are fasted prior to transport, so they should be interested in food within a few days of being added.

Choose the Right Tank Size

Take careful note of all total tank volume requirements for shark species. If you have a 500-gallon tank and add lots of decoration, you may be down to only a 300-gallon tank. Adding additional filtration elements and sumps will bring this back up.

Pristine water quality is the most important factor in keeping your shark healthy. Sharks are very sensitive to poor water quality, so having a large-volume tank will allow your filtration to function correctly without stressing out your shark. When in doubt, go for a larger tank with fewer species. This will provide a good cushion to any water chemistry issues.

Introduce Sharks Last

As with any top predator species, pet sharks should be added to your tank after all the other occupants. This will allow time for the less-aggressive species to find a place to call their own and hiding places, if necessary. Closely monitor your shark after adding them to the tank. If possible, leave the lights very low for the first few days and bring them up very gradually over a week or so to allow your shark to become accustomed to their new space.

Pay Close Attention to Water Quality

Because sharks are very sensitive to water chemistry, never try to start a new tank with a shark. Only tanks with fully functioning biological filtration are appropriate for sharks. Because sharks are the last additions to your tank, your other fish can help cycle the tank prior to adding your shark. Test your water chemistry daily after adding your shark to ensure everything tests correctly.

Take Proper Safety Precautions

Handling pet sharks is not for a beginner fish keeper. Sharks require special handling, equipment, and skill. If you are unprepared for working with a shark, allow professionals to move your new shark into their new home.

Shark skin is made up of “teeth” called dermal denticles that feel like sandpaper when touched gently but can easily open large patches of skin. Never handle a shark with any bare skin exposed. Wear cut-proof gloves and long-sleeved rash guards to prevent handler injury.

Sharks can easily be injured during moving. They should not be bent in a U-shape within a traditional net. instead, use a long stretcher with material that will not be damaged by the shark’s rough skin.

More docile shark species, like the Nurse shark, cannot cause serious bites due to the location of their mouth and tooth shape, but take caution all the same. Keep your hands away from their eyes and mouth to prevent injury—to yourself and to the shark.

If an injury occurs while adding a pet shark to a home aquarium, flush any wounds with fresh water and seek medical care immediately. If your shark is injured, have your veterinarian assess them as soon as possible.

How To Add a Pet Shark to Your Saltwater Fish Tank

  1. Once the shark has arrived, open the box and check their condition. If you notice anything odd or concerning, contact your supplier immediately.

  2. Open the bag of water containing the shark and start a low dip flow of new tank water into his current reservoir. Avoid removing any shipping water, if possible.

  3. Once the volume of water in the bag has doubled, test your shark’s water for pH, temperature, and salinity. If it matches your tank’s values, proceed to the next step. If not, continue to drip in tank water until your values match.

  4. Put on all your shark handling gear (cut-proof gloves, long-sleeved rash guard) and bring in at least one more person to help you move your shark into the tank. It’s recommended to have one or two additional people on standby to help, if necessary. Everyone should wear PPE.

  5. Depending on the alertness of your shark, you may need to sedate them temporarily before moving them. You may be able to receive medication from your veterinarian or bubble in pure oxygen during or after acclimation.

  6. Slide your stretcher into the bag containing the shark and secure them in the stretcher, closing both ends tightly.

  7. Quickly move your shark to their tank.

  8. Open the head end of the stretcher and allow your shark to swim into their aquarium.

  9. Watch your shark carefully for the next hour.

  10. Dispose of shipping water and add new water to your tank to bring it up to the correct volume.

Featured Image: bennymarty/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Jessie Sanders, DVM, DABVP (Fish Practice)


Jessie Sanders, DVM, DABVP (Fish Practice)


From the love of animals and the underwater world came the most unique and amazing veterinarians on Earth, Dr. Jessie Sanders. Dr. Sanders,...

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