Shark Central, the 4,500-gallon immersive touch tank, that has captivated guests since 2006, just reopened to the public after a state of the art transformation over the summer. In August of 2017, the exhibit temporarily closed for an upgrade. This meant sending the nearly two-dozen sharks that call Shark Central home to the offsite animal health facility until the completion of the project.
What makes Shark Central unique is the opportunity to see and touch sharks from around the world. Some of the sharks in Shark Central are from the West Coast, like the leopard sharks, shovelnose guitarfish, and California horn sharks. Others are native to South Africa, such as the striped catsharks (also called pyjama catshark), and the leopard catshark. There is even a shark that can only be found in Australia – the Port Jackson horn shark.
The biggest upgrade to Shark Central is behind the scenes, but vitally important – a new state of the art life support system. This new system was the major hype with all of the biologists working on it. Aquatic Biologist Scott Brehob shares his enthusiasm about the new design and more efficient system.
“I’m incredibly excited to have a brand new and more efficient life support system that gives these sharks great water,” Brehob said. Brehob takes care of the sharks in Shark Central. He has seen the evolution of the exhibit since it first opened in 2004, and shared his passion for taking care of the sharks in his Takeover Tuesday post.
The system is a technological upgrade; it’s less bulk and more bang, just like the ever evolving cell phones we use. We won’t get into the entire scientific nitty gritty; but the new pumps are VFD (variable flow drive) and they include their own computer systems. This allows for the biologists to manually type in what they need from the pump that feeds the tank and the bio towers. If they need more flow to the tank and less pull from it, they can simply type that in. Also with the upgrade, if one of the pumps goes down, the other one can do the work for it, ensuring optimal safety and efficiency.
Other changes include resurfacing the tank walls, a new paint coat on the exhibit, new decking, and a new concrete ledge. When asked about his favorite part of the project, Assistant Curator Dan Hagley stated he “enjoyed the plumbing aspect and getting to use new things I’ve never played with before that will make it a lot easier for the biologists to maintain the tank.”
Teamwork played a big role in completing this project, and it would not have been possible without the help of the volunteers and interns who assisted our animal husbandry team, and engineers. Volunteers helped drain the tank and cleared out all of the gravel and river rocks so a crew could then come in and resurface the tank walls.
A ton of work went into this transformation, some of which we could easily overlook like cleaning the new gravel before filling it in the tank! The new filtration systems could easily do that work over time; however, the gravel is very dusty and makes the tank cloudy if it isn’t cleaned beforehand. To save time and get the exhibit looking as nice as possible, several staff members and volunteers took on the task of cleaning the new gravel before shoveling it into the exhibit.
After filling the tank with freshly washed gravel, our biologists filled the tank with water. They made sure the temperature is 60 degrees – these sharks are accustomed to that cold temperature in their native environments, Brrrr! Biologists also made sure the water has accurate flow rates, balance, and chemical levels before bringing the animals back in. The animals are brought back within a number of moves to ensure that all is well in the environment.
“I love being able to educate people about these fascinating animals from around the world. Many people don’t even have the opportunity to see sharks up close, but our guests get to interact with them,” said General Curator, Mark Dvornak.
Dvornak shared his passion about the transformation and how the new water system will give the sharks the optimal healthy environment that a unique touch tank needs. His last big project was the new Stingray Hideaway. It is a larger scale touch tank project that is also open for visitors to experience along with our better than ever Shark Central!
Be sure to stop by and visit Shark Central to see the energy-efficient improvements on your next visit. There are sharks from all over the world awaiting your arrival right here, at Newport Aquarium.