Locals can stick their hands in some shark-infested waters this weekend as part of a new exhibit at the Ty Warner Sea Center on Stearns Wharf.
Featuring three types of small local sharks, the showcase – named “SHARKS… bite size” – will include a shark sense exhibit, a shark reproduction exhibit and educational shark movies, said Sea Center Director Jenny Theodorou. The showcase opens this Saturday.
Theodorou said the exhibit is in response to high public demand.
“We did a marketing survey, and hands down people wanted sharks, so we decided to [feature them],” Theodorou said.
She said the shark touch tank will probably be the most popular section of the exhibit.
“We have touch tanks and, under the guidance of trained volunteers and staff, guests can touch and actually feel what a shark feels like,” Theodorou said.
Sea Center Aquarist William Lambert said the sharks are indigenous to the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. The current three varieties of sharks in the touch tank are horn sharks, swell sharks and thornback rays, Lambert said.
“All of them are local and they all get along,” Lambert said. “They’re subdued, so they’re good for the touch tank.”
Although the other sections of the exhibit will leave after this summer, Theodorou said the shark touch tank will remain as a permanent fixture of the Sea Center. To have the touch tanks, she said, the center had to get additional licensing.
“We have special permits to collect and keep animals,” Theodorou said. “We actually have someone designated here to work with the government.”
In addition to having a touch tank for sharks, Theodorou said the Sea Center collects shark eggs found on the adjoining beach.
“Some we hatch here in captivity, some came from researchers, and some, like the rays, we save from fishermen,” Theodorou said.
Lambert said most of these sharks will probably be released back to the ocean, but if they are happy and healthy, they’ll remain in the Sea Center.
“If their numbers get too high, or they get too big for the exhibit, we’ll release them back into the wild,” Lambert said.
Sea Center Volunteer Coordinator Leeza Charleboix, who graduated from UCSB, said volunteers are very involved in orchestrating the center’s exhibits.
“Our volunteers are called ‘sea crew volunteers’ and they are exhibit interpreters,” Charleboix said. “They answer questions, explain exhibits and help manage the touch tank.”
UCSB students make up a significant portion of the sea crew, Charleboix said, and the Sea Center is always looking for more help.
“We’re so happy to have UCSB volunteers,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun and a great way to learn about teaching and marine exhibits.”
The Sea Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Price of admission is $7 for adults, $6 for teenagers and seniors and free for children under two years of age.