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Adventures in Shark-petting

So, some of you may remember a month or so ago that I posted to express my doubt that the New England Aquarium's new Shark & Ray Touch Tank would actually -- as billboards implied -- allow me to pet a hammerhead shark. And yet, this turned out to be accurate, inasmuch as their tank truly contains several bonnethead sharks, which are the smallest members of the hammerhead family.

A couple of weeks ago, maxineofarc and I went to the NEA in order to check this out for ourselves. And we had an excellent experience.


The NEA's new Touch Tank is actually really nicely set up, and it compares favorably, IMO, with similar tanks at San Francisco's Aquarium of the Bay, and the Monterey Aquarium, which I reported on previously. It's big, but well laid-out. It allows the inhabitants to get away from the people if they aren't feeling sociable, but also nicely traffic-directs them past where people can stand to put their hands in the water.

I don't know whether we just lucked out, or what, but we not only got a lot of ray interaction, but quite a bit of shark interaction as well. My previous experiences at the two west coast aquariums was that the sharks really weren't into it, even if the rays were. But at the NEA's tank, while MOST of the sharks were refusing to play along, several were doing dedicated rounds for petting. (The NEA employees who were on hand to provide info -- and make sure people didn't try anything stupid with the fish -- said there were 35 sharks in the tank, which seemed ridiculous, as only about 5-6 were visible swimming around. When you looked closer, you could see the tails of the other sharks all sacked-out underneath some of the coral-reef structures, napping or whatever.)


The rays came swimming by on a regular circuit and even if you just held your hand still in the water, a lot of them would swim up enough that you'd brush their backs. Rays feel very smooth and silky and muscular. The silkiness is actually a thin coating of slime that they generate, but it really doesn't feel slimy.




But the little bonnetheads were definitely the stars. A couple or three of them kept circulating from the back of the tank up to the front where they would come close enough for petting. Mostly it seemed like they could kind of take or leave it, but they could have avoided it entirely if they'd wanted to, so it was nice that a few came out to play. They were very pretty to watch, though.


Our favorite was the little coral catshark, which seemed to have decided that being petted was very cool indeed, judging by how often it looped around within reach. You want to talk "nonthreatening" for a shark, well, it is hard to get more nonthreatening than a shark that is pink with dark pink spots.


Swimming against the flow of the rays, it would loop around close to the edge of the pool where all the people's hands were, and it was long and skinny and fine with swimming right over your hand so you could tickle its belly.

My advice to anyone who tries to go is that we had the best luck going in there about an hour before closing. It was a Friday, and when we arrived at the aquarium, it was absolutely mobbed with school groups. We waited, and walked through the rest of the place first, only going down to the Touch Tank around 4pm -- and at that point, we had it practically to ourselves, which was perfect. It was easier to move around and try sticking your hand in at various places, and I imagine, there was not so much commotion in the water of lots of hands. (I wonder if that was why the sharks were willing to come near; but I can't yet compare it to the experience when there are a lot more people crowded in there.)

All in all, very awesome.

NEXT: more owlets!


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
Holy bat dren, awesome! We so have to go next time I visit?!
May. 27th, 2011 11:58 pm (UTC)
Wow! I loved petting the rays in Monterey Bay, but sharks too? This sounds awesome! Love the pictures - the pink spotted fella is adorable. :)
May. 28th, 2011 01:04 pm (UTC)
Extremely awesome :o) and lovely pics. I'm so glad you had a good time!
May. 30th, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC)
OOOOO! I want to do that!!

Jun. 13th, 2011 07:15 am (UTC)
Now that is cool.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )