Public awareness and concern over marine life has grown over the years. The list of concerns , including netting, over fishing, shark fin cutting, and the capturing of aquatic mammals has influenced our practices and now we see a number of aquariums like the Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada will not exhibit marine mammals such as dolphins and whales.
Currently, sharks, and manta rays are the aquatic attractions more often used to educate the public and to draw crowds.
The Aquarium of Barcelona Education Centre opened in 1995, serves as an outreach, education and entertainment centre. It’s Dive with the Sharks program puts visitors 8yrs and up into scuba gear, and teaches its basics in order to submerge them underwater behind an enclosure of large acrylic sheets on a moving runway. The runway moves the visitors and a monitor down under and into the Oceanarium tank to see the rays, sharks and fish swim up close to them while behind the acrylic panels. Family and friends are able to observe from outside the water and share the experience. The program is promoted for birthday parties, and summer camps as well as the everyday visit.
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada will have live shows at their Ray Bay and Rainbow Reef with a live diver inside the tank and an educator outside the tank. Another program called “Sleep with the Sharks” will give children an opportunity to explore the aquarium in the evening and participate in hands on educational experiences. This will be followed with a snack before the children slip into their sleeping bags for a sleep-over in the shark tunnel.
The scope of public education and outreach programming being created by aquariums using sharks and rays varies wildly, and as we know with each one comes the possibility of protest as well as pleasured enlightenment.