Famous Shark Cage To Be Unveiled At Aquarium Sunday

Monday, July 21, 2008 - by Thom Benson
Young "divers" enjoy the new shark cage at the Tennessee Aquarium.
Young "divers" enjoy the new shark cage at the Tennessee Aquarium.

Even in print, the flashback to the summer of 1975 and the blockbuster movie “Jaws” gets the heart racing. For some, either Peter Benchley’s novel or Stephen Spielberg’s film are the reason they won’t get in the water more than three decades later.

There may be no other creatures in the animal world more feared and more misunderstood than sharks. Visitors at the Tennessee Aquarium get an up-close view of the powerful bodies, strong and tooth-filled jaws of sandbar and sand tiger sharks in the Secret Reef.

These large animals are impressive looking with their icy stare that sends shivers down the spines of most people who see them. “Sharks are apex or top predators. These are the animals in the oceans that keep the complex food webs in check,” said Thom Demas, the Aquarium’s curator of fishes. “We hope that our sharks will inspire everyone to learn more about these misunderstood creatures.”

The Tennessee Aquarium is once again partnering with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to present sharks in a positive light – as an important part of the natural world worthy of conservation efforts. The Aquarium hopes to build on the popularity of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” July 27 through Aug. 3, by offering shark touch encounters, special dive shows and a brand new experience featuring a piece of cinematic history, the Peter Gimbel shark cage.

“Peter Gimbel custom designed this cage to be a free-floating platform to film great white sharks. The bars are still bent on one side where a great white attacked the cage,” said Nick Caloyianis, award-winning underwater filmmaker and shark expert.

This cage was used while filming the first-ever underwater documentary about sharks, “Blue Water, White Death.” In the film, Mr. Gimbel describes the cage as a “diver elevator.”

“This film was not only groundbreaking, it was the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s novel," said Mr. Caloyianis.

Tennessee Aquarium visitors will now be able to go into the cage and have their pictures taken with an image of a great white shark in the background.

“Blue Water, White Death” was recently re-mastered and will be shown in the Aquarium’s auditorium as part of the “Shark Week” activities on Wednesday, July 30, at 7 p.m.

Mr. Caloyianis will introduce this pioneering film with a pre-show presentation and recount what his mentor and friend, the late Peter Gimbel went through during the 12,000 mile, six-month quest to be the first to film great white sharks.

After the movie, Mr. Caloyianis will be available to sign copies of his new book, “The Shark Handbook – The Essential Guide for Understanding and Identifying the Sharks of the World.” Mr. Caloyianis said this book is written for readers who don’t want a science textbook. “I think it’s a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about sharks.”

Each day during “Shark Week” divers in the Secret Reef will present “Fin-Tastic” facts about the six species of sharks at the Tennessee Aquarium. Visitors are invited to inquire about the shark’s teeth, eating habits and how they live.

Additional shark information will be presented at Shark Island where guests are encouraged to touch a bamboo or epaulette shark. “We hope that Shark Week helps people sort out shark fact from shark fiction. Hopefully our visitors will share this newly gained knowledge with others, and maybe enjoy their next trip to the beach without fear of getting in the water,” said George Bartnik, the Aquarium’s education programs manager.

In his later years, “Jaws” author Peter Benchley wrote another non-fiction book, “Shark Trouble” that he hoped would set the record straight about great white sharks. Before his death, he even expressed regret for the role his novel played in creating false impressions about great whites and sharks in general.

In 2001, Mr. Benchley told TIME Magazine, “I couldn't write 'Jaws' today. It used to be believed that great white sharks did target humans; now we know that, except in the rarest of instances, great white shark attacks are mistakes."

Environmental education can be fun and powerful. Here are a few fast facts about sharks:
-Sharks eat about two percent of their body weight per day – slightly less than humans.
-Great white sharks can go three months without eating.
-Sharks become immobile when upside down.
-An estimated 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year.
-Your odds of being killed by:
Falling down: 1 in 246
Tornado: 1 in 450,000
Lightning: 1 in 1.9 million
Falling plane parts: 1 in 10 million
Shark attack: 1 in 300 million

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