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Behind the scenes

Blackpool’s New Blacktip

LEGOLAND Windsor’s baby shark Ariel finds a new Merlin home

Britain’s first successfully bred and reared blacktip reef shark is set to leave Atlantis Submarine Voyage at the LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort for a special new home in SEA LIFE Blackpool.

The female shark pup, christened Ariel, was born on 12 December 2017 in the huge tropical aquarium which LEGOLAND Windsor Resort guests journey through in a unique underwater submarine ride. Astonished aquarist Jason Moore was on a routine dive when he discovered Ariel in the shallowest part of the aquarium, instinct having guided her there to avoid the aquarium’s adult sharks. “We had seen our adult blacktips mating twelve months earlier,” said LEGOLAND Windsor Resort senior aquarist Matt Wildsmith, “but ultrasounds didn’t show any of our five females were pregnant, so Ariel’s appearance took us completely by surprise.”

Whilst other UK aquariums have successfully bred a few blacktip sharks, this is the first time a pup has survived longer than a week – and Ariel has flourished. Already more than a month old at the time of move and gaining weight at a rate of 100 grams per week, experts believe she is out of danger and should go on to reach full adulthood.

Now Ariel is to head north to Blackpool SEA LIFE Centre where she will take up residence in a display housing tropical rays and a young zebra shark. Ariel will travel in a special transport tank, accompanied by Matt, on Wednesday 7 February and will spend a week in quarantine at Blackpool to make sure she is feeding well before moving into her new more permanent residence. 

“Ariel has been the first real breeding triumph here at LEGOLAND and we’ve grown very attached to her,” said Matt. “She is a very special girl, but while we will be sorry to see her go we know she is going to an ideal new home and will be well looked after.” As soon as Jason spotted Ariel he alerted Matt and they quickly moved her to a separate isolation area where she could be more easily nurtured. “She was soon dining on mackerel and shrimp and growing healthily,” said Matt.

Though not an endangered species, some blacktip reef shark populations living around specific tropical islands have been decimated by overfishing, chiefly for their fins, which are highly prized in China for shark-fin soup. The SEA LIFE aquarium network has a large number of blacktip reef sharks, most of which have now reached sexual maturity, and the network has launched a breeding programme. “The knowledge gained from breeding these animals is helping conservationists understand how best to protect blacktip reef shark in the wild,” said Matt. Around two dozen blacktip pups have been successfully bred and reared at other SEA LIFE’s across continental Europe, but Ariel is the first in Britain.

SEA LIFE aquariums in Scarborough and at Chessington World of Adventures Resort are both hosting pairs of juveniles from the continent in the hope they too will breed when they mature at about five years old.

And it is hoped that Ariel will soon be joined by a young male to form another potential future breeding pair.

April 2018

Merlin Entertainment