The Indianapolis Zoo, located in White River State Park in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, offers its patrons a unique opportunity to interact with sharks. As you enter the Oceans building a prominent sign gives Shark Touch Tips. Once inside you see a clever animated TV screen describing the proper way to touch the sharks. You then enter to large room where you see a pool full of sharks! These beautiful creatures, anywhere from two to five feet in length, are slowly cruising about in the pool.
Reach in the water to “pet” a shark? You have to be kidding me, right? No, it is perfectly safe, as these sharks are smooth dog sharks that live along the East coast of the American continents. They don’t eat people.
The smooth dog shark, also known as the smooth dogfish, has a slender body with a round spiracle behind each eye. This shark is able to change its color slowly to blend into the surroundings. The shark when mature can grow to five (5) feet in length. A prolific breeder, the average female raises up to 20 pups each season. A bottom feeder, the dog shark’s primary diet is composed of lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. Its teeth are very small and blunt and are used to crush its prey similar in the way we use a nutcracker to open hard shelled nuts.
The shark pool at the Indianapolis Zoo is about fifty feet long and 20 feet wide. About 75% of the water is 18 inches deep. There are low walls which make it easy to reach in and run your hand along the shark’s side at it swims by. It is quite a unique experience. Other signs and the video demonstration warn against touching the shark’s fins, or splashing the water which scares the sharks.
One end of the pool is three feet deep, and signs explain that this area of the pool is off limits for touching the sharks: This is a designated “rest area” for the dog sharks. The Zoo staff member on duty explained that the sharks do exhibit behavior that indicates the need to remove them from human contact. She also mentioned that the sharks know that swimming close to the edge of the pool makes them accessible by their human visitors. Some of the sharks can be seen swimming out of reach of the people. This behavior does point to learning ability in this species.
A trip to the Indianapolis Zoo is a great activity. It is a world class facility that is constantly growing. Take in all the exhibits, and plan on spending some time with the dog sharks. Rarely do you get the chance for such an educational, fun, and up close and personal interaction with one of nature’s beautiful creatures.