It’s the story of a lovely lady, Zoe, 12, a zebra shark, who had swum solo for some time inside the National Aquarium’s Wings in the Water exhibit, mingling with other fishes, sure, seemingly social, true, but in one sense living alone, without another zebra shark to call her similarly wacky-looking water family (extra-long tail, spotted body, big smiling face). All that changed recently when Zeke, age two, left the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago to take up residence at the National Aquarium, smack dab in Zoe’s high-profile tank. We’re more interested in their potential May-December coupling than that of Demi and Ashton any day, and so consulted our favorite shark expert Andy Dehart, the aquarium’s director of fishes and aquatic invertebrates — and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week adviser — about Zeke and Zoe’s future friendship, including romantic possibilities that could bubble up.
Why was Zeke, who took up residence at the National Aquarium in 2010, only this month introduced to the public and fish-crazy paparazzi, via the Wings exhibit?
Zeke’s ready now at age two. He’s swimming with some very large rays, roughtail and southern stingrays with about six-foot wingspans. The sharks that live in there need to be a certain size to make their presence known at feed time.
Who has taken care of young Zeke? Or would you say shark-sat?
Our main aquarist Colleen Newburg is his day-to-day caretaker. Now that he’s in the exhibit, he sees volunteer divers twice a day. They help with [pole-]feeding, cleaning, and maintenance.
Do you think Zeke misses his mother?
Sharks receive no maternal care.
Are female and male sharks different personality-wise?
Nope, not much difference between male and female [shark] personalities. Each shark has a personality, though. Zoe is very curious: She always comes over when there’s activity. Zeke is a unique character — [he’s not a baby]; I would call him a juvenile.
Who named Zoe and Zeke?
My wife named Zoe when she was an aquarist here! Technically speaking, they actually have numbers as names–the real way we ID is with an ID number built by the first letter of the genus, the first of the species, the year we got that animal and the order. Zeke is also known as SF 10-1. Our staff are very passionate about the animals, of course, [and about naming them]. Colleen Newburg named Zeke.
Describe the striking physical transformation the zebra shark completes as he/she matures.
When they’re born out of an egg, they are solid black with vertical white stripes — the black fades to mustard yellow, while the stripes become yellow spots like on a leopard. This is why they’re also called leopard sharks. They also get really pronounced ridges on their backs, and have super long tales. The face of a zebra shark is like a big Cabbage Patch Kid!
Despite their age difference, will Zeke and Zoe mate?
They could mate.The age difference matters now — Zeke isn’t old enough right now to want to do that. It’s possible later. With a lot of these sharks, it can take eight to 14 years to mature. So, Zeke has a little growing up to do before it’s time to date.
Does the Aquarium hope they’ll hook up eventually?
It’s one thing we always look at. How can we breed instead of using wild specimens? Zebras have done well with breeding and mating. A long-term goal is breed them…
The Wings in the Water exhibit will be expanded and reinvented in the next year or so. Can you give us a hint about the new and improved show tank?
Both Zoe and Zeke will be featured! Sharks, rays, too, and we’ll be upping the number of sharks and unique animals…