It’s a telling example of pop culture echoing the real-life sentiment that Disney’s much-beloved modern classic “Finding Nemo” features a support group for sharks struggling to master their overwhelming need to feed.
While lighthearted, this iconic scene — “Fish are friends, not food!” — plays up the long-standing view of sharks as ravenous killers with insatiable appetites. In reality, these sleek predators are hugely influential in balancing aquatic ecosystems.
For all their (in)famous portrayal in books, movies and video games, however, sharks swim a fine line between fear and adoration. In recognition of this vital — if often misunderstood — role, the Tennessee Aquarium hosts SharkFest! each August. This jaw-some celebration of all things shark-related is exclusively for Aquarium members and is included with an Aquarium membership.
SharkFest! will return on Aug. 27. In light of the continuing need to practice physical distancing, however, this year’s celebration will be a virtual live event packed to the gills with behind-the-scenes access, special guest appearances and up-close views of the many shark species that call the Aquarium home.
Members will kick things off by learning more about the sharks that inhabit the Stingray Bay touch tank. These include Epaulette Sharks, aka “Walking Sharks,” and the brilliantly patterned Japanese Horn Shark, which is renowned for having the strongest bite force of any animal. (Don’t worry, though, those jaws are solely for cracking the tough shells of urchins.)
Next, the fun continues well off the visitor path in a special, behind-the-scenes staging area. There, experts will introduce viewers to the Aquarium’s rarely seen Swell Sharks and Carpet Catsharks, two species which defy belief by glowing under ultraviolet light.
Aquarium members won’t be the only ones logging in to join the fin-tastic fun. Ocean explorer, conservationist and underwater filmmaker Fabien Cousteau (grandson of the famed Jacques Cousteau) also will be making a special guest appearance. Viewers can expect to hear stories and insights about sharks pulled from Cousteau’s many encounters with them during a life spent advocating for — and occasionally living alongside — ocean life.
Finally, the stream will conclude with an exclusive feeding of the Aquarium’s enormous Secret Reef exhibit. This 615,000-gallon tank is home to a pair of Sandbar Sharks and a quartet of Sand Tiger Sharks. During this special SharkFest!-only event, viewers will be able to venture above the exhibit to see for themselves how the Aquarium ensures the health and proper nutrition of these sleek predators using, quite literally, a 10-foot pole.
Members can access the SharkFest! stream between 6-7 p.m. using a private link delivered via email. If they can’t join the fun live, or if they want to replay the presentation, the same link will let them tune in after the fact.
This year’s SharkFest! is presented by Nature Films Network, a Chattanooga-based video production and stock footage licensing company whose credits include a number of underwater documentaries. Chief among these is “Shark Clans,” a mesmerizing film which puts viewers in the dive cage as they learn about the surprising social interactions of Great White Sharks in the waters off the Australia coast. Some of the crew from Nature Films Network will also appear during the “Dive Stream.” They’ll share experiences they’ve had while filming truly gargantuan Basking Sharks and Great Whites.
In addition to the wealth of live events, members and the public will also have the opportunity to support the Aquarium — and snag some especially cool items and experiences — during the first-ever SharkFest! mini-auction. Plenty of exciting shark-themed VIP experiences and other cool items have been assembled for users to bid on. There are also several opportunities for guests to make a donation and receive some fun shark swag, including actual shark teeth from some of the Aquarium’s sharks. The auction begins Aug. 18 and concludes the day after SharkFest! on Aug. 28.
For more information about SharkFest!, visit tnaqua.org/sharkfest/. To learn more about the work of Nature Films Network, visit naturefilmsnetwork.com/
Aquarium memberships are $120 for individuals or $175 for families. Members enjoy unlimited access to the Aquarium, special discounts in the gift stores or off admission to partnering attractions as well as access to exclusive events, such as SharkFest! More details at tnaqua.org/members/