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Love sharks? Spotlight on sharks, rays at the Aquarium of Pacific

The mysterious sea creatures stir up a range of emotions – some people fear sharks, while others are fascinated.

However you feel about sharks, and their close cousins the rays, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach will be hosting a range of educational opportunities to celebrate Shark and Ray Awareness Day on Tuesday, July 14

The designated day has been celebrated the past few years, but with ongoing coronavirus concerns, there will be an added push for more virtual experiences throughout the day on Tuesday.

It’s part of a global effort to bring awareness to the often stigmatized animals that have been portrayed negatively in Hollywood – but this is a chance to celebrate them, to share how important they are to the ecosystem and remind people the species needs help, said Erin McCombs, education supervisor for the aquarium.

“They often have these ideas of sharks being the bad guy, instead of this really beautiful, majestic animal,” she said.

Visitors who come to the aquarium will be able to visit the shark lagoon and ray pool, where if they are brave enough they can touch the sharks and rays. Online, there will be lessons on various shark species, such as the black tip and reef sharks.

There will also be lessons about rays, commonly found off Southern California’s coastline. Plenty of stingray encounters send beachgoers screaming.

“They are relatives,” McCombs said. “They are closely related, more threatened than sharks, but often get less funding for study … a lot of species around the world are not doing OK.”

Fun fact: Instead of bones, their skeletal structure is made out of cartilage.

Some of the lectures on Tuesday will focus on rays and their adaptations, such as their barbs and how they live in the shallow sand.

With sharks, there will be much attention given to their role in the ecosystems and how, as the top of the food chain, they are important for balance among the species below them.

“They are really important for their habitat,” McCombs said.

There are more than 400 known shark species, ranging from tiny sharks that are only 6-inches long to the massive whale sharks.

“They come in all shapes and sizes and have all kind of different adaptations,” she said.

At the aquarium, there’s 22 species of sharks and rays. They are part of several shark research projects, including how to artificially inseminate zebra sharks and sand tiger sharks for reproduction.

McCombs said there’s two easy ways people can help shark conservation: choose to eat sustainable seafood and support marine reserves or marine protected areas.

“Sharks are vulnerable to over-fishing,” she said. “We can make sure we’re protecting the sharks, the prey they depend upon and the habitat they live in.”

For those going to the Aquarium of the Pacific on Shark and Ray Awareness Day, safety protocols, including required face masks, social distancing rules and temperature readings are in place. Advance reservations are required; admission has been reduced to $12 per person.

The online programming starts at 8:30 a.m. when experts will talk about shark reproduction with a look at shark eggs in the Aquarium’s Shark Lagoon.

The Aquarium will also offer shark- and ray-themed classes for students in various grade levels starting at 9 a.m. for Pre-K to kindergarten-aged children, 11 a.m. for kindergarten to fifth-grade students, 1 p.m. for third- to fifth-grade students and 2 p.m. for sixth- to eighth-grade levels.

Source: Orange County Register

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