Sharks Found Hidden In Man's Basement Are Finally Recovering

"These animals were essentially living in a sewer."

Officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) were in for quite the surprise this summer when they discovered seven live sharks swimming in a 15-foot-wide pool in a Hudson Valley man’s basement.

Officials searched the man’s home due to suspicions he was harboring wildlife, though details of the case are still unavailable.

In addition to the seven live sandbar sharks, officials found two dead leopard sharks and one dead hammerhead shark in the basement pool. The sandbar sharks were less than 4 feet long and still growing — adults can reach up to 8 feet.

sharks basement new york
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Sharks must swim continuously in order to breathe, so the 15-foot pool they were living in offered potential for a number of health risks, George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told The Dodo.

“They would have been swimming circles constantly to breathe, and when you get 10 to 12 animals in a small area like this, they bump into one another — sort of like putting three people into a small telephone booth,” Burgess said. “Forcing them to live in cramped living quarters is a violation of the personal space boundaries that all animals have. It doesn’t take long for a fight to break out among sharks when that happens. And that leads to injuries, and eventually life-threatening infections.”

sharks basement new york
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Water quality could also have contributed to the deaths of the three deceased sharks, he added.

“The average Joe doesn’t have a pool full of sharks as pets, so maintaining animals of that size and species requires a considerable need for expertise,” Burgess told The Dodo. “With a crowded tank and things like improper filtration or temperature control, quality of life can go down by the minute. If that was the case here, these animals were essentially living in a sewer.”

Details about the case — including why the man was keeping the sharks — are limited as the investigation is ongoing. After their rescue, the sharks were taken to Long Island Aquarium to recover. The aquarium shared an update on Twitter about the sharks back in September, showing the animals in a quarantine tank while they were being nursed back to health.

“They are most likely all between 1 and 3 years old,” Darlene Puntillo, a spokeswoman for the aquarium, told the Huffington Post. “They were not in good health due to the conditions in which they were found and the transport they initially went through.”

While the story is still murky, Burgess speculated that the sharks were being raised so they could be sold as pets or as attractions — or even killed for their fins. It's estimated that 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, and sandbar sharks are particularly popular targets due to their large fins.

As a result, sandbar sharks are classified as a vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List and are a federally protected species in the U.S. Fishermen who catch the animals on a line can face fines if they aren’t returned to the water safely. 

sharks basement new york
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

While it has been a few months since the initial seizure, no charges have formally been made in this case.

In the meantime, the sharks have been moved to a 40,000-gallon exhibit at the aquarium, where they will remain until a permanent spot opens at New York Aquarium. It’s unclear if the sharks are unreleasable, but due to their unusual start in life, they will likely live out their days in captivity.

“They were under stress in that small basement tank and they did have some abrasions,” Puntillo told The Dodo. “They are all doing really well now, eating well and swimming comfortably. They will be with us for the immediate future.”

To help save sharks in the wild, you can make a donation to Sea Shepherd.