3950 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas, NV, 89119
Type: Aquarium / Zoo, Family Friendly
A trip to the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay takes guests on a 14-exhibit journey through a jungle environment into a sunken shipwreck where they will see 2,000 animals, including some of the most dangerous predators in the world. Accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Shark Reef offers a pre-taped tour and has naturalists positioned throughout the exhibit to answer questions.
Some may be surprised to find that the sharks at the Shark Reef -- including a Sandbar shark, a Sandtiger shark and three Sawfish sharks -- are actually not the most dangerous creatures on display there. The title actually goes to the Shark Reef's newest addition, an eight-foot-long Komodo dragon from Indonesia, followed at a close second by the crocodiles.
Contrary to popular belief brought on by movies like "Jaws," sharks have a very slow metabolism and are not relentless eating machines.
"They can eat a reasonable meal every other day and not be hungry, at least hungry enough not to eat their friends," said Brian Robinson, director of the Shark Reef.
"When people see them swimming around in our exhibit and that there's no aggression, I think they start to realize the beauty of the animals. They have existed for millions of years and have survived because they are very intelligent animals, not because they are going around eating everything they can get their hands on ... well, their fins on, actually."
Another Shark Reef surprise is the timidity factor of piranhas.
"Often you will hear that a piranha will strip your hand of flesh in a matter of seconds if you stick it in the water, but that's not in case," said Robinson. "They're actually very timid animals. When a piranha feeding frenzy occurs it is because there is the smell of blood in the water. If you're not bleeding and you stick your hand in there, they're actually more afraid of you than you are of them."
Overall, keeping the animals' aggression low involves careful planning and dedicated care.
"You have to plan your collection so that the animals that you are specifying for an exhibit are known are to live in some form of harmony in their natural state," said Robinson. "Then it's the goal of aquarists who take care of the animals to keep them comfortably fed."
A staff of 82 operates the Shark Reef on both the animal care and operations side. Each exhibit has a separate filtration system and divers can be found at all times throughout the exhibits scrubbing corals and cleaning algae. One staff member prepares 2,000 meals a day, including a wide variety of foods like chicken, lettuce, nuts, berries, mackerel, jumbo prawn and specialty gels and cakes infused with proteins.
Another unique feature of the Shark Reef is a touch pool, where guests can pet a variety of fish and rays. The fish are rotated in and out of the touch pool to reduce the amounts of stress generated by the activity.
"If the fish get tired of people sticking their hands into the water they'll swim out into the center and rest," Robinson said. "Then after awhile, they'll come back out and let people start touching them again. They balance themselves and we of course monitor them."
In general, animals at the Shark Reef will tell you when they're stressed, Robinson said. Their color or their behavior will change and trained aquarists will pick up on it.
"There are extensive veterinary measures we go to -- we weigh and measure the animals, we control their food intake -- just to keep them at the pinnacle of health," said Robinson. "We've had many people come through the aquarium from other facilities comment on the appearance of the animals, the color of the animals, and how healthy they look."