Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Whew! It’s been a busy summer here at the Aquarium! Extraordinary whale watches, energetic day camps, packed Behind-the-scenes Tours, and hopping Summer Sundays. Our animal encounters have also been quite popular, and one of the encounters I’ve had the pleasure of leading recently focuses on the ocean’s most perfect predators: SHARKS! If you have ever wanted to have an up-close and personal, hands-on experience with these magnificent creatures, then this is the encounter for you.
To prepare for this two-hour tour, we make sure we have the appropriately sized wetsuits, booties, towels, and lockers ready for our guests when they arrive. We have about 30 minutes from arrival time to the time we have to meet up with our husbandry staff, so that is a perfect opportunity for me to take the guest around to either see some shark artifacts or maybe head up to a behind-the-scenes area to view sharks or shark eggs. As I’ve said before working with and around animals can be unpredictable, so each encounter has the potential to be different.
You can learn a lot about sharks just by examining some of our artifacts, such as shark skin and shark teeth. The skin of a shark is covered in placoid scales (or dermal denticles) which are similar in structure to teeth. These scales are what give sharks their rough, sandpaper-like texture. By examining different species of shark teeth, you can get a clear idea of what the animal might eat. For instance, mako sharks have long, narrow pointed teeth perfectly adapted for grabbing fast-moving, slippery fish while great white sharks have large, serrated triangular shaped teeth well suited for cutting the flesh their very large prey.
After learning a little bit about shark anatomy and natural history, it’s time to meet up with our husbandry staff member. At this time our guests are invited to don a pair of gloves and assist in preparing some food for our sharks. To keep these animals from being hungry, they are offered almost one percent of their body weight every single day. Their diet consists of whole squid, sardines, mullet, mahi-mahi fillets, and clam. After the food is ready, the guests change into their wetsuits and booties and head out to Shark Lagoon to help us feed our large collection of sharks.
First, our guests are invited to wade in the large touch pool in order to feed the bamboo and epaulette sharks, as well as our juvenile zebra shark and mangrove stingrays.
Next, one of our adult zebra sharks is placed into the holding area attached to the large shark pool. With the assistance of our husbandry staff member, the guests are then invited into the water to touch and feel the power, grace, and beauty of this large shark while feeding it lunch!
Finally, guests are invited to assist with the public feeding of the large sharks, which happens only once a day. This is a wonderful opportunity to witness many different species consume their food as well as learning all about the techniques used to keep our sharks healthy and well fed.
While our shark animal encounter gives our guests a thrilling, and fun experience, we hope that this encounter will also educate folks about the need to preserve sharks. All shark species are in trouble, with millions of sharks being killed every year for their meat, fins, and other shark products. It is because of human activity that sharks are in trouble, and in my opinion it’s up to us to help them out and protect them. By simply not buying shark products, we can make a huge difference in the survival of sharks as well as the health of our oceans!
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