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Aquarium's Shark Week Aims To Redeem Ocean's Villains

By Aurelio Sanchez
Journal Staff Writer
          Looking up from a turtle's-eye view on an ocean floor, Patricia Disert and her grandchild, Kate Inmar, 7, watch as a shark glides harmlessly above them.
        "Everybody has to eat, and so do the sharks," Disert tells Kate. "It's nothing personal."
        Sitting on the floor outside the shark tank, Disert balanced Kate on her knee, where they could both gaze up at several shark breeds swimming by overhead, including brown, sandtiger, blacktip and nurse sharks. Swimming alongside were brilliantly colored reef fish, eels, and sea turtles.
        "If you just stand up and look up, it's not really as good, but if you sit right down here, you can see all kinds of things going on," Disert said, pointing out a couple of turtles across the way peering back at them.
        Sharks have suffered from an image problem, thanks in no small part to the 1975 movie "Jaws."
        Who can forget Captain Quint's immortal description of the great white: "And, you know, the thing about a shark ... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living ... until he bites ya."
        "Jaws" spurred a decadeslong demonization of the shark.
        But like redeemed villains, the great white is swimming back into the good graces of mankind as people learn more about them, said James M. Perez, spokesman for the Albuquerque Aquarium.
        That's the point of the aquarium's Shark Week, continuing through Saturday, he adds.
        Education volunteers will share information about the different kinds of sharks, what they eat, how they reproduce, and their fight for survival as sharks quickly become endangered. Their populations have been reduced by 90 percent in the past half-century.
        Cast as morally ambiguous man-eaters, sharks are more accurately beautiful, magnificent creatures that no more want to harm humans than humans want to single out and persecute cows for a summertime backyard hamburger barbecue.
        "Sharks have gotten a really bad rap, and I want my kids to know that," said Rich O'Neal , there with his kids Joshua, 12, and Tyler.
        Combining to push sharks to the point of extinction have been pollution, fear-induced killings, habitat destruction and commercial exploitation, Perez said.
        "We're hoping to educate people about sharks, and then maybe that will help to bring them back," he said.
        Meanwhile, newlyweds Richard and Alison Nylund of Tucson were taking in the shark tank on their honeymoon.
        "We like to visit aquariums," Richard Nylund said, adding that people should know that not all shark breeds are aggressive; some even limit their diets to plankton.
        Alison Nylund said she finds repugnant "shark finning," a multibillion dollar industry fueled by a Chinese liking for shark fin soup used to celebrate important events. A shark's fins are cut off and the body tossed back into the sea, where the still-living shark bleeds to death or is taken by predators.
        Five-year-old Lucas Gurney, there with his parents Matt and Maria Gurney, declares that he loves to see the sharks because "they have sharp teeth, and I like the hammerhead one."
        "We want him to learn to appreciate sharks as just a part of wildlife and nature," Maria Gurney said. "If exhibits like this help people to learn that, too, it's cool."
        If you go
        WHAT: Shark Week Special Presentations
        WHEN: Continues through Saturday, Aug.7. Presentations are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, though the aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and until 6 p.m. on weekends.
        WHERE: Albuquerque Aquarium, 2601 Central NW
        HOW MUCH: Zoo or Aquarium/Garden admission is $7 for adults and $3 seniors, 65 and over, and for children 3-12. Same-day combination admission to all BioPark facilities is $12 adults, $5 for seniors and children.

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