Can You Have a Pet Shark?

While you can’t own a great white shark, you can add other shark species to your tank. However, owning a pet shark isn’t cheap or easy!

May 2, 2024By Monika Dimitrovska
can you have pet shark

Can you have a pet shark? In short, yes! However, you can’t own any shark, and you should probably check your local laws before buying one.

As you can assume, sharks aren’t considered regular pets, so you must ensure you’re not breaking any animal protection laws before setting up your massive aquarium.

In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know before adding a shark to your life and list some of the popular shark species you can own. So let’s dive right in!

Can You Have a Pet Shark in Your House?

grey shark in fish tank
Image credit: Raimond Klavins from Unsplash

The federal Animal Welfare Act and other federal animal welfare laws don’t protect fish, but you can't own any shark. You can purchase some shark species, often called “shark imposters,” because they’re fish with a shark-like appearance and specific needs.

However, there’s a wide range of laws, including federal, state, and local ones, that protect wild, exotic, and domesticated animals as pets. In general, federal laws ban the ownership of endangered and protected animal species throughout the country, such as dolphins, manatees, whales, penguins, and seals.

Other unusual animals can be banned at the state or local level to prevent invasive species and prevent people from releasing them into the wild. For instance, you can’t own ferrets in Hawaii and California.

Some exotic pets require USDA, state, or local permits. Therefore, we suggest finding out what’s legal and not illegal in your area before buying any animal.

rainbow shark
Image credit: Wikipedia

Now, while you can’t own great white sharks, certain ones can be kept in captivity, such as the following lesser-known shark species:

Sharks suitable for freshwater fish tanks:

  • Rainbow sharks
  • Harlequin sharks
  • Bala sharks
  • Roseline torpedo sharks
  • Redtail-black sharks

Sharks suitable for large saltwater fish tanks:

  • Marbled catshark
  • Epaulette shark
  • White-spotted bamboo shark
  • Gray bamboo shark
  • Japanese wobbegong
  • Brown-banded bamboo shark
  • California horn shark
  • Coral catshark
  • Blacktip or whitetip sharks

Should I Get a Pet Shark?

grey reef shark
Image credit: David Clode from Unsplash

While it’s technically possible with the right permits and setup, getting a pet shark is as big a commitment as keeping a pet octopus. Most people don’t realize that owning one can be costly and time-consuming because of their special needs and eating habits.

To even think about getting a pet shark, you’d need a big tank and might have to strengthen your home. It’s pricey, too, costing between $15,000 to $30,000 over two years.

Setting up the tank for a shark is a big job as well. You have to make sure the water is right and go through a long process to cycle the tank. If you don’t do this properly, your shark could die.

So, for most people, it’s best to say no to a pet shark. Instead, consider other unique fish creatures for your aquarium, such as ghost shrimp, rabbit snails, etc.

What’s the Biggest Shark You Can Have As a Pet?

blacktip shark
Image credit: MiO from Pixabay

If you’re looking to go larger, a 1,000-gallon tank can accommodate Blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) or Whitetip (Triaenodon obesus) sharks. These sharks can grow anywhere from 48” to 60” and can be kept with a variety of reef fish as long as they’re adequately fed.

However, keep in mind that owning any of these two species isn’t a good idea for a few reasons:

  1. It’s often illegal, so you must check your local laws.
  2. They grow quite large and may require much larger enclosures as they mature.
  3. You can’t meet their social and environmental needs in captivity.

For a 500-gallon tank, you could consider any of the following:

  • Japanese Wobbegong (Orectolobus japonicus) – grows to 42”
  • Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) – grows to 42"
  • Brown-banded Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum) – grows to 40”
  • California Horn Shark (Heterodontus francisci) – grows to about 38–40”

If you’re looking for a shark for a 180-gallon tank, consider one of the following:

  • White-spotted Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium plagiosum) – grows to about 36”
  • Gray Bamboo Shark (Chiloscyllium griseum) – grows to about 30”
  • Coral Catshark (Atelomycterus marmoratus) – grows to about 28”
  • Marbled Catshark (Atelomycterus macleayi) –grows to about 24.”
child large aquarium
Image credit: Caroline Hernandez from Unsplash

The sharks listed above can be kept by anyone who has experience with saltwater fish or reef aquariums. They can be sensitive to nitrate levels (as low as 10–20 ppm) and do need a high flow rate, but other than that, most of these sharks can thrive in a standard reef environment.

Note: In some cases, you will be offered nurse sharks because of their docile nature. Don’t buy a nurse shark unless you have a 15,000-gallon pool to keep it in (they can grow to lengths of up to 14 feet).

Can You Have a Great White Shark As a Pet?

great white shark
Image credit: Marcelo Cidrack from Unsplash

No, you can’t keep a great white shark as a pet. They’re protected in their natural habitat, and it’s illegal to fish for them. Plus, great whites need to keep swimming to breathe, which isn’t possible in captivity. Even if they were captured, it’s hard to feed them properly. Aquariums that tried keeping them either had to set them free or, sadly, they didn’t survive.

Taking care of intelligent marine animals, especially big ones like great white sharks, needs a lot of know-how and resources.

Therefore, if you’re into marine life, we suggest exploring other species like seahorses or fish breeds for first-time owners that aren’t illegal and hard to look after.


woman petting shark
Image credit: Sarah Richter from Pixabay

In conclusion, owning certain sharks is possible, but you should check your local laws, just in case. You should also learn about the needs of the species you’re interested in and decide which one fits your budget and lifestyle.

As we said, having a pet shark isn’t easy or cheap. You need enough time, money, and space. You’ll need a big tank and a strong house, and it can cost between $15,000 to $30,000 over two years.

However, if you’re ready for the challenge, choose one of the species we listed above and give shark ownership a try.

Monika Dimitrovska
By Monika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.

But Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.