Loro Parque’s aquarium, located in Tenerife, has successfully achieved progress in a pioneer training system for sharks and rays to accustom them to veterinary controls and revisions in order to ensure their welfare. Very few modern zoos have carried out these diverse and innovative volunteer behaviour techniques to guarantee proper handling and comfort of various species housed by the Nº1 Zoo in Europe and Nº2 in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
This training method that is only used in some European zoos is based on the voluntary entry of the sharks and rays into a special stretcher that is introduced in the water. Once they are in the stretcher they remain calm and make almost no movement until the caregivers have finalized the revisions, blood tests, scans or any necessary procedure without making the animal go through any kind of stress.
The goal of these training sessions is to obtain a controlled and voluntary response towards a possible blood test, prenatal isolation or to carry out routine control biometrics, explains Ester Alonso, the aquarist in charge. “The possibility to perform a blood test voluntarily and free of stress is a great step towards clinically controlling the sharks and, in many cases, extending their life expectancy”, assures the expert.
The stretchers have different shapes and colours depending on the species so that each animal reacts to “a different kind of stimulation and there is no confusion,” she says. The location also changes according to the day of the week to ensure that the training that each species receives corresponds to each stimulus and not the particular location where they receive a positive response.
Dr. Javier Almunia, Environmental Director of Loro Parque, highlights that the importance of these voluntary procedures falls directly on the welfare of the animal and the security of the specialists that work with them as this way the veterinarians and caregivers can interact with the animals in a safe and preventative way. In his opinion, the fact that sharks can train just like any other animal proves that, despite the unfair reputation they have earned with Hollywood movies, “sharks are not particularly dangerous or aggressive animals,” notes Almunia.
On the 40th anniversary of the premiere of the movie Jaws, sharks continue to cause fear among swimmers across the world, a situation that doesn’t contribute to the conservation of their species. According to International Union for Conservation of Nature and Shark Alliance data, a third of sharks are threatened with extinction.