A New Way to See and Learn About Sharks

Photography provided by Newport Aquarium

Newport Aquarium is always looking for ways to help guests experience the underwater world in a new way- and they just found one that guest can’t experience anywhere else in the world.

“Sharks have always been a guest favorite,” says Chad Showalter, Newport Aquarium’s marketing and communications manager.  “And with nearly 50 sharks in the aquarium, we wanted to provide guests with a whole new way to experience them.”

That idea was Shark Bridge – a 75-foot, V-shaped rope bridge that spans an open shark tank housing nearly two dozen sharks of different species, rare shark rays, and hundreds of other animals. It is the first and only experience of its type in the world.

“When the bridge first opened it was fun to see families cross the bridge together,” says Showalter. “One of the first families to cross was so excited that they high-fived each other afterward.”

Since opening in April 2015, Shark Bridge has become a hit at the Aquarium with more than half a million guests finding the courage to cross it.

“Each day we hear kids bragging about how they walked just inches above sharks on a rope bridge.”

In addition to Shark Bridge, there is Shark Central, a hands-on shark touch pool where courageous visitors of all ages are invited to touch sharks under the supervision of Newport Aquarium staff members who teach about each unique species and demonstrate the proper way to touch them.

An all-time fan favorite is the 85-foot acrylic tunnel through a massive shark tank. Surrounded by Sharks is Newport Aquarium’s signature exhibit and shows off several different species as they swim around, over and even under amazed onlookers.

The first and largest look visitors get of shark rays and sharks is at the Shark Ray Bay Theater that features regularly scheduled dive shows and a Q&A with scuba divers on topics like the conservation and biology of sharks and the other marine animals that live with the sharks.

Guests can also see scheduled shark and shark ray feedings of more than 15 species from many different vantage points throughout the aquarium.

All of this access to some of the ocean’s top predators is to not only astound and entertain guests, but also educate.

“We have the responsibility of educating about sharks and telling their story of survival,” says Showalter. “Our goal is to make people more aware of what dangers sharks are facing and what we can do to help.

“The truth is that humans are more of a risk to sharks each year than sharks are to humans. Sharks are endangered due to human activities like dangerous fishing practices and habitat degradation. Shark fin soup is a big cause of death and sharks are also ingredients found in medicines and cosmetics.”

An endangered species at Newport Aquarium that faces the same threats is the rare and exotic shark ray that looks like a combination of a shark and a stingray. In 2005 Newport Aquarium was the first aquarium in the Western Hemisphere to exhibit shark rays and its Shark Ray Breeding Program is helping address the long term sustainability of this vulnerable species. 

During a guest’s journey through the shark-infested aquarium, they will learn about conservation groups supported by the Newport Aquarium such as the Shark Research Institute, Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the Costa Rica-based Misión Tiburón, which lead efforts to educate the public on the global harm caused by acts like overfishing.

“If you like seafood like I do, there’s a great app called Seafood Watch,” says Showalter. “It helps us to choose seafood when we are grocery shopping or out at a restaurant, that’s been fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.”

Seafood Watch is designed and maintained by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and provides the best recommendations on buying fresh seafood and sushi plus which local restaurants serve sustainable seafood.

In addition to sharks, visitors can check out exhibits that feature penguins, alligators, frogs, otters and a number of species found in coral reefs, the Amazon and coastlines from around the world.

Newport Aquarium is located at 1 Levee Way, Newport, KY 41071. For more information, call 859.261.7444 or visit their website at www.newportaqaurium.com.