Photo courtesy of Natalie Burdick
Santa Monica Pier Aquarium hosts a weekly shark feeding called Shark Sunday to educate humans about sharks, according to Vicki Pasek, aquarium employee. Their goal is to prevent and reduce widespread fear of sharks. This event occurs every Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
Pepperdine offers surfing classes and Surf Chapel, which both occur at Zuma Beach. Students surf in the ocean but aren’t made aware of any dangers they might encounter while in the water, such as sharks.
According to the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History, 114 shark attacks have been reported from 1926-2014, six of those located in Los Angeles County.
“We are here to tell them that sharks come in every size, they can be from very small to very big, they sleep during the day and are active at night, and they really don’t want to eat people — they’d much rather eat fish,” Pasek said.
Pasek said everything in the aquarium, including the plants and animals, is local to the Santa Monica area.
Christina Romani, mother of 6-year-old Giordano Romani, said her son rolled up his sleeves to touch the sharks during Shark Sunday but was disappointed when he found out he couldn’t.
“If you touch them, and you don’t know anything about them, then they might bite you,” Giordano said. “But I’m not afraid of them biting me.”
Giordano’s mother said her son is very interested in learning about sharks, as well as other sea animals, which is why they came to the aquarium to see the shark feeding.
Aquarium staff were located at every table and touch tank, ready to answer questions patrons might have.
“You don’t get to touch a shark every day,” employee Micky Kesterson, who feeds the sharks during the Shark Sunday events, said. “You certainly don’t get to touch a shark here at the Pier Aquarium as much as we wish we could have people do so.”
Kesterson said these events are great opportunities for employees to converse with audience members about fear of sharks.
“That’s my favorite part,” Kesterson said. “We go scuba diving, we go collecting animals for the aquarium, we see sharks every time we’re out in the ocean to do all of these things, and when they see us they swim the other way.”
Freshman Mikaela Clark, who is enrolled in the popular surfing class, said she doesn’t worry about sharks while she’s in the water because she doesn’t think about them.
“They don’t talk to us about them because I don’t think it’s a big concern to them,” Clark said. “We saw dolphins on our first outing, and it was exciting. I didn’t feel scared.”
Kesterson said he is not afraid of sharks. He also said sharks are more afraid of humans than humans are afraid of sharks.
Freshman Simone Raeth, who attends Surf Chapel on Wednesday mornings, said she doesn’t find herself afraid of sharks while she’s out in the water.
“Though shark attacks can happen, they’re really rare, so I don’t really feel the need to be afraid,” Raeth said. “I’m not going to let the fear of something that could potentially happen to me stop me from doing something I know is fun and safe.”
Raeth said she’s more afraid of the board hitting her in the head while she’s out in the water than any potential shark attacks.
Christina Marino and Kent Pryor, a couple visiting the aquarium from Bakersfield, said that when they’re in Santa Monica, which is usually every couple of months, they always stop at the aquarium.
“I’m fascinated by anything underwater,” Marino said. “But I don’t know that I would ever not be completely afraid of sharks.”
In agreement with Marino, Pryor said, “I think that there’s different types of sharks. If you had a Great White in here, I wouldn’t stick my hand in a tank and try to pet it and say I’m not afraid of it.”
Marino said her fear of sharks depends on the context of the shark’s location.
“To stick my hand in a tank, where I know they’re a little more domesticated, I know I wouldn’t be afraid of them,” she said. “Out in the open though, unsupervised, I would be afraid of them.”
The aquarium is part of the Heal the Bay nonprofit organization. Heal the Bay promotes cleanliness amongst Southern California’s beaches and oceans.
Shark Sunday has generated an annual 80,000 visitors and has been operating for over a decade, according to Tara Crow, programs manager for the aquarium.
Kesterson said patrons are more comfortable with sharks after attending Shark Sunday because they re-evaluate their fear of sharks.
“There’s no such thing as a man-eating shark,” Kesterson said. “I like the statistics. There are 63 people bitten by sharks in a year, while 1,600 people are bitten just in New York City by random people.”
To learn more about Shark Sunday and the aquarium hours, visit Heal the Bay’s website.
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