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Last entry at 4.30pm

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Marine Parade, Napier
Ph: 06 834 1404
Opening Hours
Daily from 9:00am - 5:00pm,
last entry 4:30pm

Sharks, Stingrays and Skates

SharkSharks are exceptional survivors of the sea and evoke fear and terror, yet only five of the 375 species actually attack humans. The National Aquarium has several types of Shark, which you can even swim with. The aquarium is also home to the Sharks' cousins ... Stingrays and Skates.

The name 'shark' generally applies to larger fish with streamlined bodies, long heads and high, erect dorsal fins.  Some have a very fast active swimming pattern and if frightened, will sometimes leap over a metre out of the water. Sharks are cold-blooded, top-of-the-line predators and they mostly eat dolphins, seals and many other fish.

Shark Hunting and Feeding

Some sharks have huge mouths and swallow food whole or in big pieces, tearing at flesh or lashing their bodies against victims. Most sharks feed only a couple of times a week in the wild and are mostly solitary, living and hunting on their own. They reach full size when they're 10-15 years old.

Shark Skeletons, Skin and Teeth

Shark skeletons are made of cartilage (as are the skeletons of Stingrays and Skates) and their skin is covered with small, sharp tooth-like scales. Shark teeth come in several rows and are serrated, like a saw. Their teeth grow back and are replaced regularly throughout their lives, and adult Sharks can go through 7-12 sets of teeth each year.

Shark Buoyancy and Electrosense

Sharks have special livers that are filled with oil for buoyancy and some also possess an internal heat exchange system to keep their body temperature above that of water. Twin nasal cavities are used to detect the direction of a smell, and small clusters of electrically sensitive receptor cells positioned under the skin in the head are connected to pores on the skin’s surface. This electrosense enables them to 'see' weak electrical fields generated by prey.

Scroll through the species below or click on the link to go directly to a specific animal.

Sevengill Shark

Names: Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) / Mango Ihunui
Habitats: Deepwater (300-600m) – tropical, temperate regions, including New Zealand
Size: Up to 2m in length
Feed: Carnivore – invertebrates and many other fish
Special Features: 7 (not 5) gill slits with a single, small dorsal fin

The Sevengill Shark is the largest of the sharks at the National Aquarium. It is generally slow moving but is capable of short bursts of speed. An inquisitive fish, the Sevengill has poor eyesight but when caught, will often attempt to bite!

Sevengill Shark Features

With seven gill slits and a single, small dorsal fin, the Sevengill Shark can be grey or brown on top with scattered black and white spots and a creamy-white belly. It can be hand feed when it comes close, but when caught can become aggressive. The Sevengill is of minor commercial importance, however its survival is unfortunately threatened.

Spiny Dogfish

Names: Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias) / Mud Shark
Habitats: Shallower water, 50-150m (but sometimes up to 700m) – New Zealand, Europe, North/South America
Size: 80-160 cm in length
Feed: Carnivore – invertebrates and many other fish
Special Features: Two spines and two dorsal fins

The Spiny Dogfish has two spines, one for each dorsal fin, but lacks an anal fin. It is found mostly in New Zealand's shallower waters and further offshore in most parts of the world, especially in temperate waters.

Spiny Dogfish Features

The Spiny Dogfish's two spines are used defensively and if captured, the shark arches its back to pierce its captor. Then glands at the base of the spines secrete a mild poison into the prey to render it submissive. Both male and female are greyish brown and are counter-shaded.

Males mature at around 11 (human) years and can be identified by a pair of pelvic fins modified as sperm-transfer organs, or claspers. Females mature at 18-21 years and are slightly larger than males, reaching 70-100cm for New Zealand species.

Rig Shark

Names: Rig Shark (Mustelus lenticulatus) / Lemonfish, Pioke, Manga, Mango
Habitats: Coastal (200m) – around New Zealand
Size: 1-1.5m in length
Feed: Carnivore – invertebrates and many other fish
Special Features: White blotchy spots on body and can spend time just resting on the bottom of the ocean.

The Rig Shark grows and reproduces quickly, making it less likely to be overfished than other shark species. Rig Sharks are abundant all around New Zealand, usually in waters no more than 200m deep.

School Shark

Names: School Shark (Galeorhinus galeus) / Makohuarau, Tupere, Kapeta
Habitats: Deepwater (up to 800m) – temperate regions, including around New Zealand
Size: Up to 2m in length
Feed: Carnivore – not fussy, will consume any kind of fish available
Special Features: Ovoviviparous (see below)

The School Shark is found worldwide in temperate deepwater. It feeds in mid-water and close to the seabed, and reproduction is ovoviviparous (when embryos develop inside eggs within the mother's body until they're ready to hatch).

School Shark Features

The School Shark is a small shark with a long snout and a large crescent-shaped mouth with triangular-shaped, small and flat teeth, facing backwards, serrated and with a notch. School Sharks are counter-shaded with a dark bluish grey on the upper surface and white on their bellies. Juveniles have black markings on their fins.

Carpet Sharks – Swell Sharks

Names: Carpet Sharks (from an order, or Orectolobiformes, of Sharks)
Habitats: Deepwater – tropical and temperate regions, including around New Zealand
Size: 30cm-1m in length
Feed: Omnivore – molluscs, crustaceans, small fish, plankton
Special Features: Skins resembles ornate carpet designs

Carpet Sharks are a diverse group of sharks that derive their name from their mottled appearance with intricate patterns reminiscent of carpet designs. This patterning provides camouflage when the fish is lying on the seabed.

Carpet Shark Features

Most Carpet Sharks feed on the seabed in shallow to medium-depth waters, picking up molluscs, crustaceans and other small creatures. Some female sharks have been seen pushing eggs into crevices as added protection for the developing embryos. Other species retain the fertilised eggs in the mother's oviduct.

The Whale Shark

The largest Carpet Shark is the Whale Shark, which can grow to a length of 14m. It is the largest species of fish but despite its size is not dangerous as it's a filter feeder, drawing in water through its mouth and sifting out the plankton. The smallest Carpet Shark at about 30 cm long is the Barbelthroat Carpet Shark.

Stingray & Skates


Related to sharks, Stingrays have a cartilaginous skeleton with no true bony support for their body. Stingrays are sedentary, bottom-living creatures that spend most of their time resting on the sea floor. Poison is produced in the thick layer of darkly pigmented tissue in a groove on each side of the under surface of the sting. They give birth to live young, about 15cm across.

Short-tailed Stingrays

Growing up to 1.8m across and bulky in build, these rays are commonly found in shallow water. Short-tailed Stingray are not aggressive or dangerous, unless accidentally trodden on in which case the tail barb can inflict a painful injury. Also know as Whai Repo, Pakau and Oru in Te Reo Māori.


Related to sharks and stingrays, Skates also have a cartilaginous skeleton. There are over 200 types of Skate worldwide split into two groups: the Rejinae (hardnose); and Arhynchobatinae (softnose). Skates are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs then laid in a protective hard case called a mermaid's purse.

Skates have a distinct dorsal fin along with thorny projections on their backs and fleshy tails for protection from predators. Their teeth are very small and their colouring is usually a drab brown or grey. As opposed to Stingrays, they're often found in deeper water, but not always...

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