March 20, 2021
- as seen by -Alexis Mone
The name Wobbegong derives from an Australian Aboriginal word for “Shaggy-beard.” These sharks’ “beards”, or barbels, help them camouflage within reefs to ambush their prey.
Since wobbegongs are also sedentary, we only feed them once a week in the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! Coral Reef Tunnel at WCS’s New York Aquarium. After two years of consistent training, we no longer have to search the exhibit for our six juvenile spotted wobbegongs, Orectolobus maculatus, to feed them. Instead, the small sharks hear an auditory cue and station at the surface of the exhibit for reinforcement. This breakthrough in their training will allow us to proceed with more advanced training such as stretcher and tactile desensitization that assist us in providing veterinary care. It is a slow process with these sharks, but it makes every step forward that much more rewarding.
“I am very proud of Alexis and the keepers who worked with her in surmounting all of these obstacles to create and sustain a successful wobbegong husbandry and training program. This is why we now refer to Alexis as our ‘Wobbie Whisperer,’” says Hans Walters, Animal Department Supervisor at the New York Aquarium.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March.