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Why Does No Aquarium Have A Great White Shark?

great white shark vs. tiger shark
Image by Gerald Schombs via Unsplash

Sharks of all types are some of the most intriguing and majestic creatures ever to inhabit this planet. But if you’ve been paying any attention to things happening in the aquarium industry, no doubt you’ve heard that no aquarium has a great white shark and has succeeded in keeping it in captivity. 


Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Image via Depositphotos

Despite their allure and the public’s fascination, great white sharks pose insurmountable difficulties for aquariums. First, to understand why, let’s look at a great white’s biology.

Biology Of Great White Sharks

great whit illustration
Píndaro Díaz-Jaimes, Manuel Uribe-Alcocer, Douglas H. Adams, Jose Miguel Rangel-Morales and Natalia J. Bayona-Vásquez, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These sharks have a distinctive appearance: sleek, torpedo-like bodies, a pointed snout, and large, triangular teeth that can grow up to three inches long.

Their powerful tail fin helps them maneuver quickly through the water. Their skin is covered in tiny, serrated scales called dermal denticles, which reduce drag as they swim.

Unique Adaptations

Silhouette of jumping Great White Shark. Image via Depositphotos

Great White Sharks are also biologically equipped with unique adaptations to survive in the wild. For instance, they have a high concentration of red blood cells. This allows them to maintain a constant body temperature, even in cold water.

Their eyesight and sense of smell are also incredibly sharp. Thus allowing them to track prey from great distances. In addition, they have a sensory organ called the ampullae of Lorenzini. This can detect electrical signals in the water and helps them locate prey hidden beneath the sand.


Great White shark ready to attack
Great White shark. Image via Depositphotos

However, these biological adaptations that make Great White Sharks such fearsome predators also make them incredibly difficult to keep in captivity. These sharks require much space to swim, hunt, and maintain their natural behaviors. This is often leading to stress or illness in confined spaces.

Moreover their sensitive physiology, inability to adapt to captive diets and potential for aggression toward other tankmates make them unsuitable for many aquariums.

Shark Cage Diving

shark cage diving
shark cage diving. Image via Depositphotos

Great White Sharks are best admired in their natural habitat – where they can swim freely and thrive. This can be done through Shark Cage diving a topic you can fully explore in our article about Great white Shark Diving and dive deeper into the industry by reading Shark Cage Diving: A sinking Industry?

Solitary Behavior

Tagged great white shark in the blue ocean
Great white shark in the blue ocean. Image via Depositphotos

Great White Sharks are known to be solitary creatures, and they prefer to swim alone for most of their lives. If they were to be placed in captivity, they would most likely become stressed. As well as agitated due to the proximity of other sharks and animals.

Socializing And Mating

Great white shark. Image via Depositphotos

While they may be solitary most of their lives, Great White Sharks socialize and mate with other sharks during the breeding season. They are also known for their elaborate courtship rituals, which involve a lot of swimming and chasing.

Hunting And Feeding

Great white shark breaching in an attack on seal, South Africa. Image via Depositphotos

Great White Sharks are apex predators. This means they are at the top of the food chain and don’t have many natural predators. They are expert hunters and have been known to follow the migratory patterns of their prey. Mainly prey such as seals and sea lions.

Migration Patterns

Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico.
Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, Mexico. By Terry Goss, CC BY 2.5,

Great White Sharks have a unique migration pattern that involves traveling long distances. They do this in search of their preferred food sources. Generally they have been known to travel more than 6,000 miles in a year. Some studies suggest they may be able to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field.

Sensory Abilities

Silhouette of jumping great white shark, South Africa. Image via Depositphotos

Great White Sharks have an incredible sense of smell. They use to detect prey from as far as two miles away. They also have an impressive electroreception system that allows them to sense the electromagnetic fields produced by other animals.

Risks And Realities Of Captivity

great white shark
Image by Oleksandr Sushko via Unsplash

Keeping Great White Sharks in captivity may seem fascinating, especially for aquarium enthusiasts. Evidently weighing the risks and realities associated with such an endeavor is essential. Here are some key points to consider:

Captivity Can Cause Stress And Health Problems

Great White shark
Great White shark in the deep blue. Image via Depositphotos

Because they are apex predators, great white sharks need a lot of room to stay fit. Significant stress in captivity can result in health issues like improper feeding and hunting techniques. Added to this is a higher risk of disease, as well as skin and fin damage from continuous swimming in smaller enclosures.

Escaping Or Accidental Injuries Can Be Disastrous

Great white shark swimming. Image by Gerald Schömbs via Unsplash

Few aquariums worldwide have attempted to keep Great White Sharks in captivity, and even fewer have succeeded. One of the reasons for this is the inherent danger of housing such a powerful and unpredictable animal. Escapes or accidental injuries can be disastrous for the shark and the people involved.

Public Perception And Conservation Efforts

Great white shark breaching. Image by Alex Steyn via Unsplash

Putting a Great White Shark in an aquarium can help the public understand the species better. Moreover it can also create misconceptions and reduce the urgency for conservation efforts. Many people may see these animals as less scary or dangerous than they are. This can ultimately put them at risk in the wild.

Alternatives To Captivity

Great White Shark Swimming in Blue Water. Image by Gerald Schömbs via Unsplash

Generally there are other ways to promote the conservation and education of Great White Sharks without keeping them in captivity. Sponsoring research programs that study their natural behavior and habitat needs is an option. Organizing educational programs that involve interactive experiences with live or simulated sharks in their natural environment.

Even though it may seem appealing to keep Great White Sharks in captivity, we must weigh the dangers and practicalities of doing so. We must find morally sound and environmentally sound means of promoting the conservation and education of the ocean’s most magnificent creatures, even as we work to protect them.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium
People watch a school of sardines in the Open Ocean exhibit at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the difficulties associated with keeping Great White Sharks in captivity, there are some successful examples of sharks being housed in aquariums. Evidently one of the most important success stories is the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. In 2004, they kept a young female Great White Shark in captivity for a record-breaking 198 days. The shark was eventually released back into the wild due to concerns about her health.

Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium

Aquarium of Okinawa
The Kuroshio Sea, the main tank of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, with whale sharks, rays, tuna, and schools of smaller fish. Jordy Meow, CC BY-SA 3.0,, via Wikimedia Commons

Another example of Great White Sharks being kept in captivity is the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Japan. They house a female Great White Shark accidentally caught in a fishing net and cannot survive in the wild. Moreover the aquarium staff has worked diligently to provide a safe and comfortable environment for the shark, which has been on display since 2016.

Conservation Efforts

oceanic whitetip
Image by Gerald Schombs via Unsplash

Despite these successes, the consensus among experts is that keeping Great White Sharks in captivity is not ethical or sustainable. Thus this sentiment is reflected in the fact that no new aquariums have attempted to house these animals in recent years. Many challenges are associated with keeping these apex predators in captivity, including their large size, complex social behaviors, and specialized diet.

Conservation efforts, such as marine protected areas and sustainable fishing practices, may also help Great White Sharks in their natural habitat. Thus making the need for captivity unnecessary.

Wrapping Up

Silhouette of jumping great white shark. Image via Depositphotos

While there may be success stories of Great White Sharks being kept in captivity, it is important to consider the ethical implications and the potential harm to the animals. Evidently there are promising possibilities for the future, but the best way to observe these magnificent creatures is in their natural environment.

Video on Why No Aquarium Has A Great White Shark?

YouTube video
“Why no aquarium has a great white shark” Uploaded: Vox, Source: YouTube

Great white sharks should be preserved in their natural environments rather than being kept in aquariums, according to their conservation status. The welfare and preservation of these magnificent animals in the wild must come first, even though there are other ways for us to appreciate and learn about them.


Great White Shark, South Africa. Image via Depositphotos

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