It’s been a summer of shark sightings, from Nantucket to Kennebunkport, Maine. Each new headline sparks terror and avoidance, spoiling beach days and sending swimmers scurrying for the shore. They’re the stuff of summertime horror movies.
But they’re also coveted pets, often kept by marine lovers who can afford to spend as much as $100,000 — or more — for swanky, spacious aquascapes in their own home.
These days, “There’s the novelty of having a shark. It’s not something everyone can obtain. It’s a status thing,’’ said Keith Borgaro, who owns Boston Aquariums in Watertown.
“In the past three or four years, there’s been a lot more interest. Maybe because they’re very calming to watch, very slow-moving,’’ said John Indeglia, who runs Oceans in Glass, an aquarium installation company in Salem, N.H.
However, being lulled to sleep by a pet shark in the privacy of one’s living room typically requires a certain amount of commitment and money, as well as research.
Many homeowners opt for banded or marble cat sharks, which cost about $200. Smooth hound sharks are $500. Leopard sharks, $800. A more predatorial black-tip reef shark typically sells for $4,000, Indeglia said. None tend to grow more than to 5 feet — downright cute compared with a great white, which can sometimes reach up to 20. Let’s be clear: When we talk about household aquarium sharks, we’re not referring to those.
Smaller, less expensive cat sharks tend to be the most popular household pet. Ellis London, who operates Tropic Isle Aquarium in Framingham, gets his from wholesalers on the West Coast, packed in plastic bags with one-third water and two-thirds oxygen, secured in Styrofoam boxes to be flown cross-country.
“They have a mystique,’’ London said.
And a certain Zen aesthetic appeal: “They’re smaller and more docile. But they’re not really exciting. They’re not on the prowl, looking for food like regular reef sharks,’’ said Rob Shain, who owns Seascapes Aquariums in Sandwich.
Even smaller, docile sharks require plenty of room. Saltwater aquariums, some of which weigh up to 10,000 pounds, get costly.
“The minimum tank is 150 gallons and six feet long. The sharks need the length. Larger ones are 730 gallons, and they cost from $5,000 to $30,000,’’ Indeglia said, though the price can jump into the hundreds of thousands for large, circular tanks similar to what you might see in public aquariums.
Indeed, not all homes are built for marine life. “My territory is 5,000- to 15,000-square-foot houses with large family rooms,’’ he said.
Some tanks are mounted on living or family room walls; tanks that sit on stands need steel support beams, installed by a contractor or an engineer, and filtration systems that reach a specially designated room in the basement. Borgaro said the construction can take three to six months.
Once an aquarium is installed, there’s the matter of choosing compatible fish to share a home. They should be large enough so as not to become a “snack,’’ Borgaro said. He often opts for tangs and avoids triggerfish and angelfish — “anything that will pick at them,’’ he said, which won’t end well. He also avoids coral (it will be gobbled) and opts for live rock, which helps with filtration and can be constructed as caves, making the shark feel more at home while on display.
“We want to simulate their natural environment and keep their health high,’’ he said, noting that some sharks can live for well over 10 years.
For true shark lovers like Al and Liz Farese of Middleton, sharks aren’t a trendy piece of home decor — they’re a reflection of a lifestyle. The pair are avid scuba divers, going on shark dives every other year in the Caribbean. Their 12-year-old son is also a newly minted diver. The couple said they want to teach their children to have a healthy respect for the creatures, especially given that they are portrayed as terrifying predators whenever they are sighted.
“We love sharks, we love the ocean, and we try to bring a little bit of that home with us,’’ Liz Farese said.
Indeglia installed a more modest 150-gallon tank in their basement “man cave,’’ said Farese, built into a wall directly behind their bar. The family has owned a variety of banded cat sharks over eight years, but because they have a smaller tank, their pet can’t stay forever. Once the shark outgrows their tank — a shark shouldn’t bump into the sides of an aquarium— Indeglia finds it a new home with a 300-gallon owner.
The family has also owned shark eggs.
“You clip it in a lettuce clip inside your tank and watch it grow. Once it hatches, you put it into Tupperware with saltwater, open its mouth, and feed it pieces of shrimp with a pipette. You nurse it to health. It’s like having another child,’’ Liz Farese said.
And though their aquarium is very real, some people still can’t quite believe that, yes, it’s possible to keep a shark in your man cave.
“Once, my son told his class that he had a pet shark. His teacher said he had an active imagination and asked him to bring it in,’’ she said. “But it’s not something we can put on a leash.’’