Sand tiger sharks have approximately 90 jagged, needle-like teeth, and a good number of them protrude from their jaws.
It makes for a rather menacing appearance, but I’m not scared as one such shark swims slowly toward me at Camden’s Adventure Aquarium. After all, I volunteered for this up-close-and-personal shark experience, and eagerly plunged into the aquarium’s 550,000-gallon Shark Realm exhibit, where 21 sharks, mostly sand tigers and sandbars, check me out like I’m a new pup entering a dog park.
It’s the tank’s 72-degree-Fahrenheit water—which is colder than it sounds—that gives me the chills. Even with a wetsuit, I shiver as I snorkel behind a semi-barrier meant to resemble a reef. The sharks, however, hardly have me sweating. I’ve been told that they don’t pose a threat—fortunately Anchor, a rascally hammerhead who chases other fish for sport, dwells in another exhibit—and all are well-fed.
Snorkelers can get face to face with sharks at Adventure Aquarium. Video by Gary Phillips
“Because they’re offered food so regularly, they don’t want to spend any extra energy,” Alex Middlebrook, one of the aquarium’s biologists, assures me. “They are curious, but they’re not looking at people for a meal.” She went to school for this sort of stuff, so I trust her. Meanwhile, Christine Urban, another biologist, confidently fends off any overly curious sharks with a piece of PVC piping. All seems secure!
I am disappointed when I am told that I cannot touch the sharks, but they come close enough that I certainly could. Instead, with my head and GoPro submerged, I watch as they wonder what the heck I’m doing in their domain.
The aquarium’s 45-minute shark encounter is for thrill seekers aged 12 and up. Visitors can pay $190 to swim with the venue’s most intimidating tenants. That experience also includes a 15-minute stingray feeding, during which guests can wade through 3 feet of water while cownose rays swarm them in search of fish.
Adventure Aquarium—which is on New Jersey Monthly‘s list of the 52 Things You Must Do in New Jersey—also offers a behind-the-scenes hippo encounter, a chance to waddle with penguins, and a sea-turtle feeding.
The shark encounter, however, is the only one that allows you to go face to face with some of the ocean’s top predators. And if that’s not enough of a buzz, volunteer scuba divers are welcome to help at the aquarium.
For more local adventures, check out our guide to the Garden State’s most exhilarating thrills.Click here to leave a comment