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Shark Week is here! Go feed some predators at Mandalay Bay’s aquarium

To feed a predator: If you really need a shark fix, head to Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium and serve up some lunch.

“Sorry,” my friend says. “I’m not doing anything this week. It’s Shark Week.”

Yes, the annual television specials, which feature titles like Zombie Sharks and Spawn of Jaws 2: The Birthing (and have even spawned their own predatory offspring, Syfy’s Sharknado and Sharktopus series), have become an event to plan around. Somewhere, a Discovery Channel executive is taking a victory lap.

But in Vegas, where our only beaches are lakeside and the likelihood of seeing a dorsal fin swimming toward you is zilch, sharks are more casino attraction than lurking threat. Which is how I recently found myself feeding a particularly hungry male zebra shark lunch.

Inside the 1.3 million-gallon shipwreck exhibit at Mandalay Bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium, seven species of shark swim alongside massive green sea turtles and countless fish. For having so many toothy predators in such a confined space, the wreck is an admirably peaceful place, largely because lunch is served by accommodating humans (and even the mightiest sea beast prefers an easy meal to a hunt).

Recently the aquarium launched a series of new “animal encounters” ($50-$70), where guests can book behind-the-scenes experiences that culminate in playing waiter to the stingrays, turtles or relatively mild-mannered zebra sharks.

Using a long-handled set of tongs, I pinched a hunk of frozen mackerel and cautiously lowered it into the water where the zebras are conditioned to expect their meals. Suddenly, a speckled gray and black head emerged from the depths and, after making a few passes, approached my dangling offering.

Blame one too many Shark Week shows, but I truly expected some sort of terrifying chomp. Instead, sharky opened his wide mouth and sucked in the fish like an aquatic vacuum. It was almost ... gentle.

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