“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.