Plenty of learning at Ocean Park's new shark exhibition

Plenty of learning at Ocean Park's new shark exhibition

Ocean Park's new Shark Mystique - which opens today - features two rare marine species in an effort to make summer learning fun

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Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

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Visitors are certainly excited about the new exhibition
Visitors are certainly excited about the new exhibition
Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

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A ragged-tooth shark
A ragged-tooth shark
Photo: Ocean Park

Had your fill of learning? Just want to kick back and relax this summer? Well, the people at Ocean Park have other ideas. Welcome to Shark Mystique. You'll learn things there - and have fun. It opens today at the park's Marine World.

It's the only shark and ray exhibition in Hong Kong - a collection of 130 sharks and rays from 15 species. Some were bred at Ocean Park, others were imported from abroad, and they can all be viewed in the 2.2-million-litre tank.

Just when you think "No more teachers, no more books", general curator Grant Abel throws knowledge at you - details of nature's chainsaw, the largetooth sawfish.

"This fish is unusual in that its teeth are on the outside on a large saw that extends just under a metre in length," Abel says. "They swish the saw side to side through schools of fish, and then go back to eat the fish that they have injured or killed. It's a very interesting and unusual feeding strategy." Two of them, a male and female, will be on display at Shark Mystique. The female is the larger at 3.2 metres long and weighing more than 200kg.

Another eye-catching species in the aquarium is the ragged-tooth shark, which was imported from South Africa. As its name suggests, it has ragged needle-like teeth sticking out. "They are slow and live close to shore, and because they look so menacing, they are often targeted by fishermen and hunters, and even by people at the beach," says Abel. He adds that although these people fear the shark, "it is quite harmless to humans".

Both the largetooth sawfish and the ragged-tooth shark are critically endangered, so having them at Ocean Park is remarkable. The shark numbers are falling, both because of sport fishing and, as Hongkongers know, because of the shark fins and other body parts people eat. Abel says tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for these reasons.

And that's the other purpose of Shark Mystique: to spread the word about marine conservation.

"The message of Shark Mystique to the public of Hong Kong is to stop and think how Hong Kong and Asia are exploiting this species, literally to the brink of extinction," Abel says. Educational materials and interactive games available at the aquarium should help do this.

"If you really appreciate their beauty, you'll develop sympathy for them and have a reason to become more educated about what we can do to help conserve them," Abel says.

Students can help do that, he says, simply by learning more about the animals and conservation. Even when people shop for seafood, Abel recommends that they ask the manager if the fish are caught sustainably to discourage unregulated and inhumane hunting. "[Usually] fish from Australia and New Zealand are from sustainable fisheries," he says. "But there are also a lot of fish coming from wild sources in Thailand and Vietnam, which is most likely not coming from sustainable sources."

Another way to help the cause is to take part in beach clean-ups, such as the ones Ocean Park organises every year. "Cleaning up the beach benefits the ecosystem, so it also benefits the sharks," Abel says.

"It's not just eating sharks and shark products that is bad, but the uncontrolled consumption of them. We have to learn more about marine animals and conservation, or else we will lose them forever."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Aqua-learning

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