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Is It Legal to Own a Pet Shark?

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Shark Week. And while some viewers kick back, marvel at the raw beauty and destructive power of sharks, and think, "Thank goodness I don't have to encounter those in my daily life," others are wondering, "Can I get one of those in my living room?"

The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is: It depends on the shark!

Species of Sharks

If you're just seeing some great whites, hammerheads, or tiger sharks swimming around, eating just about everything in their path, you may be shocked to learn there are over 400 different species of sharks, and not all of them so enormous and ... toothy. But as Azula points out, smaller species like the wobbegong, the epaulette shark, and the bamboo shark can actually be purchased from online stores and some local aquarium shops. (Azula also notes that larger species like great whites are never allowed in aquariums."

"[T]he most popular species are those that do not have to move to breathe," says Oceana marine scientist Mariah Pfleger, "this makes them a lot easier to keep because they require a whole lot less space." Pfleger also warns that "keeping a shark should only be done by advanced aquarists." Additional concerns are the intensive maintenance that larger saltwater tanks require along with the average lifespan of most sharks -- some can live 25 years.

Shark System Verification

If you're still dead-set on a dead-eyed aquatic pet, you can get some tips from PetMD, and cruise by Shark Supply LLC's website to see if you meet the criteria for shark ownership:

You will be asked to provide a lot of information about your identity and your system. You will also need to email us a photo of your system before we will discuss any price not already posted on this web site. We will not sell you a shark that is too large for your system. So, we must be able to verify your system is real and adequate.

Shark Supply is also quick to point out that federal and state fish and game laws protecting sharks are being enforced, and advises prospective owners to "never buy sharks from anyone selling or collecting them illegally."

You should also know that there are some fish that will be labeled "sharks" that are not, biologically speaking, the species you're looking for. This can be a good thing: freshwater "sharks" like the rainbow shark, bala shark, and red-tailed shark, can give you some of the shark ownership experience without so much of the financial commitment. But if you're looking for the real thing, make sure you don't get ripped off.

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