Fin-tastic! Shark Week surfaces at Birch Aquarium


By Jenna Jay


Duh dun ... duh dun... duh dun ... it’s baaack. Shark Week, that is.

Birch Aquarium’s annual Shark Week celebrations begin July 17 and run through July 23 with the toothy sea creatures as stars of the shows.

Shark Week features the 10 types of sharks housed at UCSD’s Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, with seven days packed full of shark-themed activities and events for visitors of all ages.

Dive shows in the aquarium’s 70,000-gallon kelp forest tank, as well as shark scavenger hunts, hourly informational presentations and talks from Scripps’ shark researchers, will all shed light on the sea’s feared and revered predators.

While Shark Week explores the frightening strength of several types of sharks, its purpose is also to display the animals in a positive light and enlighten visitors with facts and figures about these powerful marine hunters.

“Shark Week is about really educating the public on how wonderful sharks are and how much more they have to fear from us than we have to fear about them,” said Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, executive director at Birch Aquarium.

“There are 300 species (of sharks), and very few of them really ever attack people. These are truly amazing ocean predators, and they are being killed in the hundreds of thousands if not millions.”

The aquarium’s 10 species include the blacktip reef shark, zebra bullhead shark, white-spotted bamboo shark, brownbanded bamboo shark, epaulette shark, coral catshark, nurse shark, leopard shark, swell shark and horn shark.

Aside from shark displays about the aforementioned species, the week also includes presentations on current research. One highlight will be when Scripps scientist Andy Nosal speaks to visitors about his work tagging and tracking leopard sharks, some of the most prevalent sea animals in local waters.

“Leopard shark work is pretty cool because we get several hundreds of these sharks coming here every summer into La Jolla Shores and we’re not really sure what they’re doing here,” Hillgarth said. “To know more about them is something we’re still learning a lot about.”

Scripps researchers are radio tagging leopard sharks to monitor where they breed and discover what they do in San Diego waters. “Some of the most interesting research right now is going on (at) our back door,” Hillgarth said.

Lectures on leopard sharks are only part of this year’s Shark Week excitement. Visitors can also learn everything from how sharks grow and survive in the ocean to the ins and outs of how their deadly chompers work. Educators will even be on hand to let the brave touch local sharks, including swell sharks and horn sharks.

Shark facts

  • Sharks attack fewer than 100 people per year, on average.
  • Sharks have existed for more than 350 million years.
  • Sharks belong to Elasmobranchii, the group of cartilaginous fish that also includes rays and skates.
  • The spiny dogfish shark is the most common shark.
  • Sharks can have up to 3,000 teeth at once. Most sharks have around five rows of teeth at any time.
  • Sharks can take 10 or more years to reach sexual maturity.
  • Whale sharks, which can grow to 50-60 feet in length and weigh 25 tons, don’t bite or chew their food and instead are filter-feeders, grazing on zooplankton near the ocean surface. They are the world’s largest-known fish (living or fossil).
  • Sharks have a reflective layer called a tapetum lucidum behind their retinas that help them see in dim light.
  • Most sharks must swim to breathe, but some can pump water over their gills instead.
  • The International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists more than 75 species of sharks as imperiled, ranging in categories from “critically endangered” to “near threatened.”

— Sources:



Shark Week activities

  • When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, July 17-23; dive shows in thetwo-story kelp forest tank, 2 p.m. July 17, 10:30 a.m. July 18,and 12:30 p.m. July 20 and 22
  • Where: Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography,2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla
  • Admission: $8-$12
  • Contact: (858) 534-FISH,
  • Perk: Bring your camera to the free Great White Shark Photo Boothand snap a picture of yourself ‘inside’ his (her?) jaws.

Full Moon Pier Walk tops off Shark Week

  • When: 7 to 9:30 p.m. July 24
  • Where: Walk along the Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Pier, normally closed to the public, on a moonlit tour with a Scripps naturalist. Participants will learn about the history of Scripps Oceanography and current research projects, while collecting plankton, performing experiments, and exploring the nocturnal habitats of marine life. For ages 9 and older (ages 9-13 must be accompanied by paid adult). Members, $22; public, $25. R.S.V.P. required; (858) 534-7336.