Sneak Preview: Sharks at the New York Aquarium

- Sharks are frightening and fascinating. A brand-new exhibit all about sharks is opening soon at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn.

"One of the greatest parts of my job is standing in the lobby and watching the kids come in literally shaking with excitement, shouting 'We're going to see sharks!' So we really want to capitalize on that fascination, we want to capitalize on the desire to see these amazing animals," aquarium director Jon Forrest Dohlin said. "And then turn that message into something deeper, which is sharks are important to ocean health, they are important to all the ecosystems they are found in."

The displays at Ocean Wonders: Sharks! offer a showcase of nearly two dozen species of sharks and other marine life found in the waters that surround New York, including sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, and rays and skates.

"All of which are in the same family and, again, the miracle—right here in New York," Dohlin said.

The $150 million exhibit is designed to be interactive, whether giving an X-ray-like image of a shark's skeletal structure or seeing up close the teeth that make them predators of the deep.

"So kids can actually touch the teeth of a shark. They can actually learn about the skin of a shark. They can understand the skeleton and all these cool features," Dohlin said. "If we create a way for them to do that through touch and feel then we create a way for their imaginations to fire up and understand this in a really organic fashion."

For example, a see-through tube lets kids pretend they're underwater looking upwards.

But fun aside, the exhibit has a heavy emphasis on education, particularly on conservation and how man can keep all ocean dwellers from peril. That is emphasized in a display that shows actual plastic materials pulled from the waters in our own backyard.

"So if we can drive a different kind of consumer awareness to say, 'Do I really need this single-use plastic? Are there not alternatives like a reusable cup, a reusable bag, a reusable straw?'" Dohlin said. "If we do that then we can start to make a real impact on that problem."

Located in Coney Island, the New York Aquarium is still rebuilding from extensive damage suffered during Superstorm Sandy.

Dohlin and his team see the exhibit as a message to New Yorkers that they are still ambassadors of marine conservation and are hoping to attract a few more.

"What I really want people to walk away from after they go through this exhibit is two things—that sharks are important, and we've got to save them, and secondly that sharks are found here in New York, in our own home, and so is a tremendous amount of other marine wilderness," he said. "An amazing fact—20 million of us surrounded by marine wilderness and that's a fantastic thing."

Ocean Wonders: Sharks! opens June 30, 2018 | New York Aquarium, Surf Avenue and West 8 Street, Brooklyn, NY 11224 | (718) 265-FISH | nyaquarium.com

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