It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Shark Week.
For a land-locked city with a nagging water conservation problem, Las Vegas has a lot of sharks.
Jack Jewell is general curator of the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, a “predator-based” aquarium that has “one of the most extensive and focused shark exhibits in the country.” Shark Reef is home to 15 species of sharks, and it’s the only place in the U.S. where the rare Galapagos shark is on display, an animal Jewell describes as an excellent predator. It’s also one of the few aquariums with shark rays. “They look like they’re a cross between a ray and a shark, but they’re a ray,” he says, explaining that the animals are about 8 feet long and 150 pounds, with large protuberances on the top of their body that give them a prehistoric look. Dino-shark-rays, coming soon on Syfy.
Despite the emphasis on flesh-chomping dramatizations and something called the Megalodon, Jewell embraces Shark Week. “It’s very simple,” he says. “Shark Week is a driver with us with respect to business. Sharks need our attention. Even if they’re often portrayed as villains, which they certainly aren’t, they need the attention of humans for their survival.”
Attention doesn’t mean you’re going to see handlers getting warm and fuzzy with their favorite tooth-faces at Shark Reef, though the aquarium does offer a dive with the sharks experience where scuba-certified guests can don chainmail and get up close and personal with the species at the top of the oceanic food chain.
The sharks don’t have names (just numbers), and Jewell hesitates to use the word “comfortable” to describe his relationship with them. “Sharks are apex predators, the apex predator of the world’s oceans. I have a great deal of understanding about their natural behavior, but they are wild animals and unpredictable animals.”
In other words, if Jewell and the sharks had a relationship status on Facebook, it might read, “It’s complicated.”
“It’s not like working with a land animal or a primate,” he says. “They’re not pets. They don’t know me. They don’t recognize me.”
Shark Reef Mandalay Bay, 632-4555, $12-$18, local discounts. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.