Shark Alley curves around the outer walls of the Shark Exhibit and complements the viewing of live sharks with informative signage and interactive exhibits that convey fascinating shark facts. The interactive exhibits provide hands-on learning experiences, encouraging visitors of all ages to delve into various aspects of shark biology and conservation. At the same time, seeing live sharks inspires awe and admiration for these animals that have inhabited our planet’s oceans for the past 400 million years.
The natural flow of the exhibit takes visitors on a journey that starts with an introduction to various shark species, with depictions of their true sizes, along with biological and conservation facts. From there, the exhibit details specific biological aspects of sharks, with information about their senses, fins, teeth, respiration, reproduction and much more. Shark Alley dives deeply into sharks’ incredible adaptations for survival, highlighting how specialised and effective they are, as well as how they have put sharks in direct competition with, and at the mercy of, humans.
‘Through millions of years of evolution, sharks have adapted and continue to adapt to their ocean habitat. Some of the survival strategies they have developed are exactly what makes them vulnerable to exploitation by the most efficient and dangerous predator of all – humans. We cannot continue to overexploit, outwit and misunderstand sharks. If they are to survive globally, they need our support and love,’ says the Two Oceans Aquarium’s Communications & Sustainability Manager Helen Lockhart, who helped to create Shark Alley.
Why is it important to think differently about sharks?
As predators, sharks play a pivotal role in maintaining many healthy marine ecosystems. The removal of sharks from the ocean can have unpredictable knock-on effects on the overall balance of marine ecosystems and may drive them closer to collapse. A collapse of this magnitude could result in the loss of essential food resources, job opportunities and biodiversity and will ultimately impact negatively on the ocean’s ability to function as a life support system for the planet. By protecting and respecting sharks and educating people about their plight, we can ensure that the marine ecosystem as a whole is afforded greater protection and respect, which in turn has positive outcomes for humans.
It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually and some species have declined by 90% in recent years. Sharks are targeted for their meat, fins, skin, teeth and cartilage in commercial fishing operations, and are also caught as bycatch.
Shark Alley not only focuses on the importance of sharks and how humans are exploiting the various species, it also highlights what we as humans can learn from sharks. From imitating the amazing adaptation of shark scales (denticles) to employing this unique design to anti-bacterial surfaces in hospitals, there are so many things that sharks can teach us.
‘It was natural for the Save Our Seas Foundation to partner with the Two Oceans Aquarium on this shark exhibit, as we are passionate about the power of communication to connect with and engage the public to transform our relationship with sharks and the oceans,’ says CEO of the SOSF, James Lea. With the goal of protecting and caring for the world’s oceans, the philanthropic organisation supports research, education and conservation projects worldwide, primarily those involving species of endangered sharks, rays and skates.
Branching out to South Africa, the SOSF opened its Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay in 2008. Perched on the wave-swept shore of False Bay, the education centre connects the public to the ocean by providing interactive experiences of local marine ecosystems and all you ever wanted to know about sharks. Its director, Clova Mabin, states, ‘I believe that this new Shark Alley exhibit will play a similar role to the work we do at the SOSF-SEC and will ultimately encourage Aquarium visitors to develop a love for these charismatic animals. Given the synergies between our organisations, I was very honoured to be asked to contribute to the development of Shark Alley and it is great to see it come to fruition and open for everyone to enjoy and learn from.’
The messaging conveyed by Shark Alley is simple: by ignoring the plight of sharks, we are setting ourselves up for the collapse of the marine ecosystems that are our life support system. It is imperative that we act before it is too late, not only for the sake of the sharks, but for our own survival too.
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