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Is It Legal to Own a Shark?

Telling people you have a pet shark would be pretty cool — but is it technically legal?


—Presented by Ubisoft Future Games of London

People have long been fascinated with sharks. It's part of why Discovery gives them a week of programming every year. But did you know that's it's technically legal to own a shark? No, you can't put a great white shark in a home aquarium (or any aquarium at all, for that matter).

But, there are some species of shark that do make for better pets.

legal to own a shark

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Oceana marine scientist Mariah Pfleger says "the most popular species are those that do not have to move to breathe ... this makes them a lot easier to keep because they require a whole lot less space."

Such species include the wobbegong, the epaulette shark and, especially, the bamboo shark — all of which can actually be found for purchase in online stores, as well as in local advanced aquarium shops.

It can be dangerous and stressful for an aquatic animal to travel long distances, though, so keep that in mind if choosing to order from an online store. For example, yourfishstore.com does not cover sharks in its "Arrival Alive Policy" (a real policy for shopping aquarists).

Of course, shark owning is not for the weak of will or small of tank. Pfleger cautions that "keeping a shark should only be done by advanced aquarists." They're definitely not your average fish.

Even the popular bamboo sharks can grow to between 2 and 3 feet, which means you'd need a pretty big tank.

legal to own a sharkCredit: via rc83reefer/YouTube


They can also live to be 25 years old, so getting one is like committing to having a child — only it won't go away to college at 18. Additionally, Pfleger notes that sharks are "messy eaters" and create a lot of waste that, if left unchecked, could lead to a chemical imbalance in the water and ultimately cause your shark to die.

Plus, saltwater tanks are notoriously finicky and "require a lot of equipment," according to Pfleger. "In order to keep the water chemistry good, the temperature correct and the saltiness of the water (salinity) in check, you have to invest A LOT into the equipment you own. If you only own mediocre equipment, it could devastate the animals in the tank."

Pfleger continues: "All of these parameters have to be kept within certain ranges to keep the shark healthy and happy."

legal to own a shark

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If owning a shark is still something you're interested in, but you don't want to or can't commit to a saltwater shark, don't despair. So-called "freshwater sharks" are much smaller than saltwater sharks and can easily be purchased and kept in smaller home aquariums.

Technically these "sharks" aren't sharks at all, but rather bony fish that resemble the body shape and fin type that real sharks have. In the aquarium trade, these kinds of fish have long been referred to as freshwater sharks, which means if you pick one up at your local pet store, you can still tell people you own a "shark."

Popular freshwater sharks include the rainbow shark, bala shark and red-tailed shark.

A trip to PetSmart reveals these animals are still recommended for intermediate aquarists.

legal to own a shark Credit: Martha Sorren for Azula

They can reach sizes of 5 to 14 inches and thus require 30- to 40-gallon tanks.

The bottom line with either saltwater or freshwater shark-owning is that it's important to do your research and understand what you're committing to. Sharks deserve quality lives, even if they're pets.

And, if you're not sure a pet shark is right for you, at least there's always Shark Week — where you can enjoy the animals from a distance.

legal to own a shark

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