Find sharks in a downtown D.C. federal building

A leopard shark won\'t stop for a photo-op in the basement of the Commerce Building. (WTOP/Max Smith)

Max Smith,

WASHINGTON – Not everyone realizes it, but there are sharks, alligators and piranhas living in the basement of a D.C. federal building.

They’re part of the National Aquarium’s D.C. venue in the Commerce Department on 14th Street Northwest near the National Mall.

The aquarium has been in the Commerce building since 1932, says Curator Jay Bradley.

“We’re standing in front of our Channel Islands exhibit, which features some sharks from around the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. We have three species of shark in the exhibit. There are horn sharks, swellsharks, and leopard sharks,” Bradley says, as the sharks swim behind him.

All three species are relatively docile, he says.

“Leopard sharks will get up to about six feet long, but they’re still kind of a gregarious shark. There have been actually reports recently in the last week or so of big schools of them off the coast of California where there are large schools of females, and a lot of people out wading with them trying to take a look,” he says.

Visiting the aquarium from Connecticut with his father and son, Mike Dokla grabbed Bradley to ask what the sharks are fed.

“We typically feed a thawed, frozen product. It’s a lot safer that way in terms of disease introduction, and we supplement with vitamins,” Bradley answers, adding that it also helps with portion control.

The aquarium does public feedings of the sharks Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. There are alligator feedings on Fridays and piranha feedings on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Dokla says he’s “loved” his visit.

“We’ve seen sharks, octopus already and we’re not even a quarter of the way through,” he adds.

The aquarium has exhibits with species from national marine sanctuaries, plus a small section of animals from the Amazon.

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