By Gina McGalliard
Sharks are often feared and misunderstood. During Shark Week, which is being held from July 19 to 26, visitors of Birch Aquarium at Scripps will have the opportunity to learn and clear up any misconceptions they may have about these animals.
Kristin Evans, the Aquarium's education manager, said she hopes visitors will come away from Shark Week with a feeling of admiration rather than fear.
This year, Shark Week focuses on conservation, which the Aquarium hopes will result in people realizing the importance of sharks to the ocean's ecosystem.
"We really want people to understand more about sharks," Evans said. "Sharks have a lot more to fear from humans than we do from them."
Bob Burhans, who is the Aquarium's curator, said sharks are often thought of as being dangerous to humans. In reality, humans are far more dangerous to sharks, he said. Shark attacks on humans are statistically rare, he said, and there are only about 10 shark species that have been known to attack humans.
Although the Shark Week program has not been changed due to the recent shark attack in Solana Beach, Burhans said the Aquarium has been fielding more questions about shark attacks. Burhans also said there have been more reported shark sightings than usual, but he thinks this is most likely due to heightened awareness.
During Shark Week, which is produced in conjunction with the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" series, visitors will have the opportunity to view 10 shark species and engage in educational activities. Participants will also be able to touch juvenile sharks – that will be raised up from their tanks in plastic bags – with supervision by an instructor.
"It's pretty exciting when the kids reach into the tank and touch a shark for the first time," Burhans said. "The expression on their faces is really great to see."
The sharks, which have been raised in captivity, are acclimated to the human touch.
"It's not hard on the shark if we do it right," Burhans said. "It's very important that we keep the sharks happy."
Along with touching sharks, visitors are invited to watch divers feed Leopard, Horn and Swell sharks. The tropical shark tank will feature the Zebra Bullhead, Bamboo and Epaulette sharks. Shark eggs, which will be backlit so developing baby sharks can be seen, will also be on display.
Other educational activities include a show-and-tell with Scripps Oceanography scientists, who will discuss research on local sharks. There will also be a scavenger hunt, special giveaways and an activity station where people can touch and feel actual shark jaws.