Shark and awe! New Aquarium exhibit celebrates ocean predators

Shark and awe! New Aquarium exhibit celebrates ocean predators
School is in: A sand tiger shark swims through the New York Aquarium’s new shark exhibit, which opened last weekend.
Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Any closer and they could bite you!

Visitors can get an up-close look at the apex predators of the sea, at a newly opened exhibit at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island. “Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” is a humongous display of sharks, rays, and other marine life, contained in a brand new building at the seaside museum. The Olympic swimming pool–sized home for dozens of sharks and hundreds of other creatures aims to shed light on the ocean’s ecosystem, said the aquarium’s director.

“We want to make a statement on a really important conservation issue, which is protecting these important animals that around the world that are key apex predators everywhere we find them, and are under incredible threat right now,” said Jon Forrest Dohlin.

The toothy predators are vulnerable to fishermen’s nets and other man-made threats, and Dohlin hopes the new exhibit will spark interest in the struggle to save sharks.

“We’re losing 100 million sharks every year, and it’s a hard number to wrap your head around,” he said. “We’re primarily and fundamentally a conservation organization. For us, the idea of presenting sharks to the public is to deliver on what people expect, and deliver what people want.”

The exhibit features nine different rooms, each surrounded by large tanks where 18 species of sharks and a hundreds of other sea creatures swim past. An archway that passes through the tank offers stunning views of the beasts passing close overhead, and a “sharks-eye view” tunnel lets visitor feel as through they are surrounded by sea life.

Inside each room are interactive displays, including one that shows the animals at different stages of their development, from embryos to full-grown adults, and a hands-on exhibit that lets visitors feel shark jaws and teeth without the risk of getting bit.

Several of the sharks in the Coney Island tank, including sand tigers, sandbars, and nurse sharks, are New York natives, which you might encounter while swimming at the nearby beach, said Dohlin.

“In these rooms, we are surrounded by sharks that are 10, 11, and 12 feet long, and these are all animals found in New York,” he said. “This is representative of New York wildlife, so when you see this and go swimming in waters offshore in New York — you’re swimming with all these coastal animals.”

Humans have always been curious about the ferocious beasts, and Dohlin hopes the exhibit will mobilize younger visitors to help save sharks and other ocean wildlife.

“They’re beautiful animals and we have a fascination with predators. It’s part of our evolutionary history and fascination with our own nature. Whether it’s a tiger, lion, wolf, shark — we have a fascination with these beautiful animals,” he said. “I want to bring people up close to them and feed their appreciation of all this, and then turn that towards ‘It’s awesome, it’s my home and I’m going to take care of it and go forth to take action.’ ”

“Ocean Wonders: Sharks!” at New York Aquarium [602 Surf Ave. at W. 8 Street in Coney Island, (718) 265–3474, www.nyaquarium.com]. Open daily, 10 am–6 pm. $15 ($12 kids).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.

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