Normally, when you enter New Richmond High School agriscience teacher Rachel Sauvola's classroom, you might see any number of mammals big and small, as well as fish and vegetables growing under heat lamps. Now, thanks to the efforts of senior Eric Langer, you'll see something a little more exotic.
"I came into Mrs. Sauvola's classroom in August before school had started and explained how I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up and how I wanted to do something with sharks," Langer said.
On Dec. 1, 2017, Langer received 10 Banded Cat Sharks (Chiloscyllium punctatum, also known as Banded Bamboo Sharks) eggs from LiveAquaria Divers Den in Rhinelander. To date, two of the eggs have hatched, while three others died before hatching.
"The scope of the project is basically just growing and maturing the sharks to see how they change and mature as they grow up," Langer said. "We are hoping to convert one the of big systems that we have at the high school into salt water. So when the sharks hatch they have somewhere to grow since they can grow to be up to 40 inches long. If we have eight or so of them make it, we would need to upgrade to a bigger system to be able to let them fully grow."
Langer has been interested in marine biology, which is what he plans to study in college next fall the University of Minnesota — Duluth, since he was in elementary school. His father, Jason Langer, kept many tanks of fish and other marine life from the time he was in high school until he had Eric and his sister.
"I'm excited for this project. It was something he had always talked about doing. Most people go with clownfish, but I told him that it was a real big endeavor to raise those. When he saw the shark eggs when we made the trip up to Rhinelander, he instantly was interested in raising sharks," Jason said. "I'm proud of him, for sure, for doing all the work to get this put together. It is nice to know that there is an interest there for something he wants to pursue."
After getting approval for his project from Sauvola and the school district, Langer prepared for his first delivery of shark eggs.
"Once I had the tank ready, we let the tank run for two to three weeks to let the salt water levels and everything get to where they needed to be. Then I put some rocks and sand in there before I got the eggs a couple weeks later once the tank was all settled," Langer said. "When we got the eggs, we had no idea when they would hatch since they take four to six months to hatch and there was no way of telling when the eggs were laid. When we got them we had some eggs where the sharks are tiny and some where they are actually developed and almost ready to hatch."
In order to keep the sharks' current tank at the correct saltwater mixture, Langer needs to drain 20 percent of the water every two weeks and refill it with fresh saltwater. If the salinity ever gets low, due to evaporation, Langer can add fresh water because the salt stays in the tank even after the water evaporates.
Once the remaining eggs hatch, Langer will need to work on converting one of the bigger tanks in Sauvola's back room from freshwater — which was used to raise tilapia — to saltwater, which will involve cleaning out all of the pipes and the tank itself.
"We will also have to come up with the right saltwater mix in order to keep the sharks happy, which involves a lot more than just mixing water and salt," Langer said. "For a system this big, we will need a lot of salt, which is the main issue we are facing right now since we don't have enough salt to get the system up and running and keep it running."
The next step once the sharks hatch, according to Langer, is getting the shark pups to start feeding and then making sure they are eating enough to remain healthy.
"I guess you could say this is my senior project. It is my way of leaving a mark on the high school. The goal is to have it continue over to next year so someone else can pick up my project and keep it going," Langer said. "We are hoping to hatch as many of these as we can so that eventually they will start breeding themselves and we can get more eggs that way. Not every high school has the ability to have something like this."
For updates or to donate to Langer's project, visit gofundme.com/shark-hatchery-lab.
"This project really showcases collaboration with many entities and it prepares Eric for his future career. That is what I think career and technical education should be all about. And it is my job to provide those opportunities for kids. So when I have community partners like the Langer family and all the people they have brought together for this project, that is success in my classroom," Sauvola said.