Matt Gade, Deseret News
Jeff Kurr believes "Shark Week" has shaped a generation's opinions about the ocean's apex predator.
While the 1975 film "Jaws" imprinted the image of a massive rogue man-eater on the public's consciousness, "Shark Week" has had something of an opposite effect, according to Kurr, a filmmaker and shark expert who has been producing specials for the Discovery Channel series since 1991.
Kurr believes a focus on science and positive portrayals of the predator have "given the sharks a voice" and built sentiment for the protection of this threatened but vital fish.
“It really helps sharks in general by promoting them," Kurr said. “I think 'Shark Week' has come so far in turning people’s opinions around. ... You can really appreciate the beauty of these animals.”
"Shark Week," in which the Discovery Channel dedicates a week of programming to shark documentaries, kicks off its 27th season Sunday. Large, dangerous shark species such as the great white, tiger and bull have typically been the stars of most documentaries, and that trend will continue this year. Kurr has two films in this year's lineup, both about great whites — "Air Jaws: Fins of Fury" and "Lair of the Mega Shark."
However, the world of sharks is one of great volume and diversity. Of the 500 or so species of sharks, more than half never grow to bigger than 3 feet, according to Ari Audd, visitor experience manager at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium in Draper, Utah.
This diverse array of sharks is on display for families to see at Utah's new aquarium, where 12 species reside.
Most of the aquarium's sharks can be found in the Ocean Explorer exhibit and its nearly 300,000-gallon tank, which features a 40-foot-long "shark tunnel" where visitors can view the fish all around them. The tank features six grey reef sharks, five blacktip reef sharks, four whitetip reef sharks, four sandbar sharks, two zebra sharks, two nurse sharks and one brownbanded bamboo shark. They share the space with southern stingrays, a honeycomb whiptail ray, a shovelnose ray, damselfish, square anthias, unicorn fish, a green sea turtle and a loggerhead sea turtle named Gabbi.
Deana Walz, director of animal husbandry, has worked for the Living Planet Aquarium since 2009. She studied at Moorpark College in California and started her career working with dolphins and sea lions. As an animal behaviorist, she enjoys observing the sharks and pointing out schooling and hunting patterns.
"It's fun to see how that behavior comes together," she said. "If (people) could just sit here and spend five minutes, you would see a lot."
Walz points out, though, that their hunting efforts aren't all that successful because the sharks are already well fed and the fish in the tank are provided with "fish condos" — rocks that provide refuge.
"You have to give the prey somewhere to hide," Walz said.
Keeping sharks — especially large species — in captivity isn't an easy proposition. While there are massive whale sharks on display at the Georgia Aquarium, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium has had juvenile great whites on display from time to time in its Open Sea exhibit, the sharks at the Living Planet Aquarium are typical fare for aquariums.
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