Here at Mystic Aquarium, where sharks and rays are both part of our interactive experiences, fun and learning is right at your fingertips.
For sharks, maybe more than any other species, learning is critical. While they are among the most diverse, with 465 known species, myths about sharks also make them one of the most misunderstood in all the animal kingdom. They are also one of the most important. As apex predators, sharks are essential to the health of our ocean ecosystem.
Sharks’ fellow elasmobranch, the stringray, may not look like it with their wide, flat bodies and wing-like fins, but trust us, they are fish! The class of stingray is as unique as its form. The various species can range in size from mere inches up to six-and-a-half feet and from just a pound up to 790 pounds! Some stingrays move their whole bodies in a wave motion while others flap their fins. They all use their tails for defense and eat an array of clams, oysters, shrimps, crabs and mussels.
Sand tiger sharks gulp air at the water’s surface to help them regulate their buoyancy and swimming depth.
They have one of the lowest reproduction rates of all sharks.
Sand tiger sharks go by a variety of names around the world; including ragged tooth shark, grey nurse shark and slender tooth shark (just to name a few). They have a unique behavior to maintain neutral buoyancy, which helps them hunt quietly and motionless. By gulping air at the surface and holding it in its stomach, the shark can float at any point in the water column they choose.
A large shark, the sand tiger shark reaches an average size from 6 to 9 feet in length and up to 300 pounds. Sand tiger sharks are easily recognizable by their numerous protruding teeth and large, notched upper lobe of the tail. The young sharks at Mystic Aquarium will have dark spots throughout their brown or grey body but these spots will fade as they mature.
HABITAT: Shallow bays to coral reefs
RANGE: These sharks have a wide distribution and can be found in subtropical and warm temperate waters around the world including coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, South America, Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, Australia and Japan.
STATUS: IUCN Red List Status – Vulnerable
THREATS: Overfishing and fisheries interactions
Unlike most other shark species, nurse sharks are smooth to the touch.
The nocturnal nurse shark rests in giant piles on the sea floor during the day.
Nurse sharks are named for the unique suction sound that they make when searching for food in substrate. They are nocturnal; resting on sandy bottoms and in crevices during the day and searching for prey at night. What nurse sharks lack in speed (they are slow-moving bottom-dwellers) they make up for in jaw strength! These strong jaws are also filled with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth. Nurse sharks can grow to be very large; upwards of 13 feet.
HABITAT: Tropical waters around rocky and coastal reefs and channels
RANGE: Both the Eastern Pacific and Western Atlantic. In the Atlantic they can be found typically off the coasts of United States from Rhode Island as far south as Florida, Caribbean, Brazil and into the Gulf.
Click for fact sheets: Nurse Sharks
There are sensory barbells located near each nostril of a bamboo shark.
Female white spotted bamboo sharks release one or two round egg cases every six to seven days on average for approximately two months.
Mystic Aquarium is home to both brown-banded and white-spotted bamboo sharks. While there are distinct differences between the species, they also share similar characteristics. The teeth of bamboo sharks have a dual role design for both clutching soft-bodied prey and crushing hard bodied prey. When hard-bodied prey is captured, the teeth are rotated inward, forming a crushing plate by using the broad surfaces of the labial teeth to apply pressure. The long slender body shape of this species lends itself well to gliding along coral reefs.
HABITAT: Subtropical and tropical reefs
RANGE: Bamboo shark are found in the Indo- Pacific regions
Click for fact sheets: Bamboo Sharks
There are two lateral rows of teeth in the upper jaw of a spotted wobbegong and three lateral rows in the lower jaw.
The female wobbegong can give birth to as many as 30 pups!
Spotted wobbegongs are nocturnal and ambush predators that lie still by using their tassel-like mouth parts to lure in prey. They have eight to ten dermal lobes around the mouth and on the sides of the head in combination with nasal barbells. Once in range, the shark uses suction to bring the prey item in its mouth. The shark’s teeth are long and fang-like, designed to hold onto prey.
HABITAT: Coastal reef habitats
RANGE: In Australia, Indonesia and Southern Japan
Epaulette sharks use their pectoral and pelvic fins to move along the sea floor almost as if they are walking.
The epaulette shark got its name from the large black spots with white margins just above its pectoral fins which look like decorations on a military uniform.
The epaulette shark has a host of unique adaptations. In addition to its slightly modified internal skeleton, it is also able to operate in low oxygen conditions for extended periods of time. By dilating their blood vessels, these sharks can selectively shunt blood to the brain. Additionally, the nervous system of the epaulette shark is extremely resilient to low oxygen conditions.
HABITAT: Shallow water coral reef habitats
RANGE: The epaulette shark is found in the western Pacific Ocean in waters around New Guinea and Northern Australia
Click for fact sheets: epaulette shark
From birth, the young stingray is able to fend for itself.
The largest cownose ray ever recorded was seven feet long from wing tip to wing tip.
These graceful swimmers can be found in multiple exhibits at Mystic Aquarium including Stingray Bay and the always exciting in the Ray Touch Pool. While there are six species of cownose stingrays, the one found here is the Rhinoptera bonasus. They are named for their distinct head shape which resembles the nose of a cow. They can be seen migrating in large groups or “schools” of up to 10,000 animals and can be found at depths from 0-65 feet.
HABITAT: Cownose stingrays are found in both brackish and marine environments
RANGE: In the Western Atlantic, they range as far south as Brazil and as far north as Massachusetts during August and September.
Click for fact sheet: Cownose Ray
The Atlantic stingray is part of the “whiptails” family of rays.
Researchers in various medical fields are investigating potential medical uses of the Atlantic ray’s venom.
The whiptail family of stingrays, including the Atlantic, has a long, whip-like tail with a venomous spine. While painful, the pierce of the stingray’s spine and its venom is rarely life-threatening to humans. Stingrays bury themselves in sandy or silty seabeds to hide from prey and predators. These rays have cells that can detect weak electric fields generated by their prey; enabling them to find food even when they are buried in the sand.
HABITAT: Atlantic stingrays are able to handle a wide range of salinities and are often found in the brackish waters of estuaries or even in freshwater rivers during warm summer months.
RANGE: Atlantic stingrays live in shallow waters along the Atlantic coast from the Chesapeake Bay to South Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico
Click for fact sheets: Atlantic Rays