Whether they’re peering into the toothy maws of Sand Tigers or admiring the delicate patterning of Coral Cats, encounters with sharks at the Tennessee Aquarium are not only awe-inspiring, they also help de-mystify these misunderstood predators.
Chances to educate the public and dispel some widely held misconceptions about sharks are more important than ever in light of the struggle these animals face in the wild, where numbers of all shark species are on a steep decline thanks to human activity.
The Aquarium will host a feeding frenzy of shark knowledge with the return of Sharkfest, one of its most popular annual events, on Friday, Aug. 4. This after hours celebration offers a fin-tastic chance for the public to have fun while learning about one of the ocean’s most fearsome and threatened animals.
This year, SharkFest will be even more special thanks to a pair of screenings at the IMAX 3D Theater of “Shark Clans.” Viewers will feel like they are cage diving with massive Great White Sharks prowling beneath the waves off South Australia’s Neptune Islands. This thrilling underwater documentary follows the work of a team of shark researchers, who have tracked and extensively photographed groups of sharks that return to this area year after year. Their extensive study has led to stunning revelations about families — or “clans” — of these sharks, which appear to abide by a social hierarchy.
“Shark Clans” features special local ties. It was filmed and produced by Chattanooga-based Nature Films Network, whose crew traveled to Australia to film the work of a research team led by famed shark conservationist Rodney Fox. In 1963, Fox was almost killed by a Great White Shark, but rather than allow that experience to inspire a fear and hatred of sharks, Fox instead has devoted his life to better understanding and protecting them.
This will be a rare opportunity to view this 2D film on the giant, six-story screen at the Tennessee Aquarium IMAX Theater. “Seeing it on the IMAX screen gives audiences a new appreciation for the huge size of these sharks,” said Rob Hall, one of the underwater photographers for Nature Films Network. “The footage looks amazing. It’s the closest thing you’ll come to actually being underwater in the cage with our team and the sharks.”
The filmmakers will have some of their equipment set up in the IMAX Great Hall and will be ready to answer any questions about diving with impossibly huge sharks.
The screenings of “Shark Clans” are just one of the many exciting activities to take part in during Sharkfest, which runs from 5-8 p.m. in the Ocean Journey building. During this celebration of all things shark-related, guests will be able to:
Get a tough-looking (and temporary) shark tattoo
Have their hair molded into a fin or another fearsome ’do by stylists from Chattanooga’s North Shore Great Clips
Get up close and personal with preserved museum specimens at Dr. Bernie’s Travelin’ Shark Show
Enjoy shark-tastic dive show presentations and a special shark feeding session
Peruse a stunning collection of prehistoric shark teeth, including some from the enormous, extinct Megalodon
Learn about smaller sharks and rays in the recently renovated Stingray Bay, courtesy of Cowboy Kyle’s Shark Round-up
Take a toothsome portrait with fishy props at the Shark Selfie Station
Sink their teeth into a tasty frozen treat from Coldstone Creamery
Tickets to Sharkfest are free for Aquarium members, $9.50 for nonmembers ages 3-12 or $14.50 for nonmember adults.
Screenings of “Shark Clans” are at 5 and 6 p.m. and will be in 2-D. Tickets are $8 and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Proceeds from the purchase of tickets to “Shark Clans” screenings will be directed into the Aquarium’s ongoing support of Sand Tiger Shark research. OCEARCH, a world-renowned marine research group, is leading the project off the North Carolina coast. The study’s aim is to use sonic tags to track mature female Sand Tigers in order to better understand how and where they reproduce. The Aquarium is helping to fund the purchase of these sonic tags, which are similar to the acoustic devices the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute uses to track Lake Sturgeon in the Tennessee River.
For more information or to register for Sharkfest, visit https://community.tnaqua.org/events/member-programs/summer/2017/sharkfest-2017.