Taking the Bite Out of Sharks

The Texas State Aquarium’s upcoming exhibit shows these misunderstood animals need our help, not our fear.

By: Andrea Bolt

Justifying not only the existence, but the conservation of Jaws is a hard license plate to swallow for many ocean-loving humans. Not everyone feels pity for the ocean’s apex predators, but the fact is that sharks are crucial to the health of our world’s oceans, and their declining populations need our help now more than ever.

Helping to illustrate the various ways in which we can and are conserving shark species is “Saving Sharks,” the newest exhibit brought to you by the Texas State Aquarium, OCEARCH, the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“Saving Sharks” is an interactive, informative exhibition designed to capture the hearts and minds of conservationists and lifelong shark fans, alike. Featuring a live touch exhibit area where visitors can see and feel whitespotted bamboo, carpet and epaulette sharks, track great whites in real time and even stand inside a life-sized underwater dive cage, it’s a shark showcase that’s sure to excite and engage every member of the family. A section on shark biology helps accomplish this by exhibiting a shark’s cartilaginous skeleton, as well as skin, scales and teeth samples from a number of different species.

The king of the shark world, the great white, is well represented throughout the exhibit, especially where OCEARCH is concerned. OCEARCH is a nonprofit organization and leader in open source data collection and research concerning great whites and other apex predators.

Aboard the OCEARCH research vessel, the team travels the world and collects data including reproductive conditions of females, body measurements for comparative studies around the world, muscle biopsies to identify key life stages and more. Led by Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader Chris Fischer, OCEARCH is able to bring live shark tracking straight to your fingertips via the Internet and their Global Shark Tracker.

Follow majestic creatures such as Katherine, the 14-foot great white who has swum over 15,000 miles in the two years since she was tagged, or cruise alongside Sam Houston, the 10-foot long tiger shark tagged off the coast of Port Aransas last summer. OCEARCH plays a critical role in providing scientific information necessary in tracking and measuring shark species across the globe, helping to lead and better steer conservation efforts.

Some of the first identified sharks that OCEARCH ever tracked were tagged by Corpus Christi’s own Dr. Greg Stunz of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. Stunz was one of the first grantees to benefit from the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Care, Conservation and Research Fund. Stunz’s main project focus was to gain a better understanding of shark migration patterns in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just why is conservation of these misunderstood animals so high on the worldwide priority list? Shark populations have seen a 70 to 90 percent decline throughout our oceans, earning many of them a place on the endangered species list, and unfortunately, humans have had a heavy hand in getting them there.

Due to practices like overfishing and finning, habitat alteration, climate change and marine debris clogging our oceans, we are harming shark species. Despite this fact, however, is the hope that equipped with the proper knowledge, we can change. Passing on all shark products, consuming only sustainable seafood, fishing responsibly and learning more about your local shark populations are all things you can do to make the oceans safer for sharks – which makes it safer for us all.

An ocean without sharks is truly terrifying. Scientists have stated that the presence of sharks is actually an indicator of a healthy reef system, as these top-down predators keep marine populations in check and help regulate the oceans. If you remove sharks from the equation, other marine life go unchecked, thus disrupting the balance and healthy equilibrium sharks provide.

Swim on over to the aquarium’s new exhibit, where you can join fins with us and we can help support our environment and our world by “Saving Sharks.”

For more information on “Saving Sharks,” call 361-881-1200, email mermaid@txstateaq.org or visit the aquarium online at www.texastateaquarium.org.

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