John M., the Vancouver Aquarium’s stockroom manager, spends most of his working hours behind the scenes. But when he gets a chance in the mornings, before the Aquarium opens, he likes to stop by the Tropic Zone to watch the zebra shark (Stegostoma fasciatum).
“Most the time it is hiding, but if I’m lucky, it’s out and swimming around,” John says.
His interest in this shark is why he nominated it for July’s Staff Pick of the Month.
Zebra sharks live among shallow coral reefs in their western Indo-Pacific habitat. Their unusually flexible bodies allow them to squeeze into small crevices when looking for food, like fishes, shrimps and crabs.
John says he was surprised when he first saw this big fish because he was expecting to see something different.
“I had never seen one before, and envisioned it would have a similar shape and size to the blacktip reef sharks in the exhibit. Also, with the name ‘zebra’ I expected a pattern with stripes all over its skin.”
Most people tend to be familiar with torpedo-shaped sharks with triangular dorsal (back) fins, like the one in the 1975 movie Jaws. But many species of sharks actually come in various shapes and sizes. The zebra shark is flatter, since it lives near the bottom of the ocean, and has an especially long tail (caudal fin).
As for its lack of stripes, well… zebra sharks actually have them when they’re born, but they turn into spots as the shark matures. That’s why this animal is also called the leopard shark.
John says he’s not sure if visitors even know that there is a zebra shark at the Aquarium, and that’s why he wanted to highlight it this month.