Swimmin' With My Homies: Coolio The Seal To Replace Pittsburgh’s Outgoing Sharks

Jul 14, 2016

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is sending its five sand tiger sharks to a Florida marine park, with the goal of mating them.

But before that can happen, the zoo has the task of transporting the large creatures to Marineland of Florida, a park operated by the Georgia Aquarium, in mid-August. Curator of Aquatic life for the PPG Aquarium Dwayne Biggs said it’s no easy job.

“Transporting a 400-pound Sand Tiger Shark is a big effort,” he said.

The sharks will travel in a 300,000-gallon tank that’s 16 feet deep. The transport tank also has special life support systems and other monitoring tools experts will use to make sure the sharks are healthy throughout the move. Aquarium staff from both facilities will join the trip too.

Caretakers said they hope the move will yield more mating, which would result in the first sand shark being born in captivity.

“It’s very important because shark species are not doing very well in the wild, especially Sand Tigers, they’re a vulnerable species,” Biggs said.

The sharks, two male and three female, have been residents of the PPG Aquarium for eight years. Sand sharks, a cousin of the great white, can weigh up to 250 pounds and reach 13 feet in length.

At Marineland in Florida, Biggs said they’ll have a bigger tank, different environment and new species to interact with. Plus the facility has two pools specially designed for sand shark mating.

Zoo visitors will have until Aug. 15 to see the sand sharks. Once they leave, a northern elephant seal, named Coolio, will take their place in a new exhibit. Found abandoned and blind on a California beach, Coolio was transported to the Pittsburgh Zoo where he's been recovering since 2014. Weighing just 150 pounds when discovered, Biggs said he's grown and will continue to get bigger. 

“He’s building a great relationship with the trainers here,” Biggs said. “He’s growing at a little over 800 pounds and going to get up close to 3,000-plus pounds and close to 14 or 15 feet long.”

Coolio is currently living "behind the scenes" as he acclimates to human interaction, but will have his own exhibit next summer.