Shark Frenzy Comes to the National Aquarium in Baltimore

Posted by Rachel S on Friday, August 23rd, 2013

We love our sharks – there’s Shark Week on Discovery Channel – the inane Sharknado on SyFy channel that swept Twitter – and now Baltimore’s National Aquarium has opened a $12.5 million Blacktip Reef Exhibit to coincide with the aquarium’s 32nd anniversary. With a fully replicated coral reef, more than 65 aquatic species intermingling and a cool 24/7 shark cam, this exhibit is perfect to feed our shark fascination frenzy.

A Faux Reef – For Real

Before we get to the fish, let’s talk about the fab faux reef that serves as this exhibit’s stellar backdrop. The carefully constructed artificial reef and viewing tank fill five stories and offer views from above and below the waterline. The reef structure aims to represent a slice of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But since coral can take a century to grow and you can’t transport it to an aquarium – not only is it fragile, but it’s rare and too critical to the ocean environment to be plucked out for exhibition purposes – what was the Baltimore aquarium to do?

They turned to Paul Valiquette, Director of Fabrication in the Exhibits and Design Department who leads a hybrid team of artists and scientists. His multi-disciplinary collective had to create coral specimens lifelike enough to satisfy finicky finsters who’ll be trolling them all day, every day for years to come. Not only that, the structures had to be able to withstand the rigors of constant saltwater immersion while being non-toxic for the sea animals. Valiquette said, “Of course, nobody really makes stuff for making coral reefs, so a lot of it is cross technologies.”

Bring on the Shark Stars

The Blacktip Reef Exhibit will be home to 20 blacktip reef sharks, clown triggerfish, zebra sharks as well as Calypso the sea turtle who has been a resident of the National Aquarium for more than 12 years. If you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you know that the coral reef is not only a place of beauty and a model of symbiosis, but it’s also a place of predator and prey. And the blacktip sharks are definitely a wild bunch having been captured (with permission) in Australian waters. So will any of the exhibit’s smaller denizens have to worry about being snack food? Perhaps.

Although the sharks have been “rehabilitated” and guided to eat at provided feeding stations to break them of the need to hunt food on their own, the wild is still in these creatures. Jack Cover, the Baltimore aquarium’s General Curator says the smaller fish have their own defenses stating, “The fish are going to do what they do in the wild. They’ll hide.” And in addition to rehabbing their prey stalking habits, Cover hopes to rehab sharks in the eyes of humans adding, “We’re trying to get people away from the myths and assumptions of the movie ‘Jaws’.”

Want to Sleep with the Fishes?

If you’ve been threatened by Vito Corleone, the notion of sleeping with the fishes can be terrifying. But the aquarium is offering a less deadly but still thrilling option called “Sleepover with the Sharks.” At one of these overnighters, you can get up and close to the aquarium’s newest predators, learn about what they eat, watch them feed and prowl the darkened aquarium after hours and in the behind-the-scenes areas. Perhaps most exciting, though, is the chance to walk the catwalk suspended inches above where the sharks swim.

If you live in Baltimore or are planning a trip nearby, a stop for a quick visit to the aquarium may be a perfect way to spend a couple of hours. Reviews say the Baltimore National Aquarium is doable top to bottom in just two to three hours. Take in the Blacktip Reef Exhibit and be sure to linger at the floor to ceiling windows at the lowest level where you will feel immersed in the reef environs almost from a scuba diver’s perspective. So head to Baltimore and get your shark on!

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