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Cozying Up to Sharks and Rays

A chance to reach out and touch them at New England Aquarium

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The shark sighting at Nauset Beach in Orleans, Mass. earlier this month was front page news, a reminder of the hold these ocean predators have on our collective imagination. Thanks to a grant from the Trust Family Foundation, visitors to the New England Aquarium can now fearlessly feed their interest in these finned creatures at the Shark & Ray Touch Tank.

The aquarium’s Shark & Ray Touch Tank, which opened last year, affords guests of all ages a front-row chance to not only observe these fascinating and often misunderstood fishes, but to touch them as well. The mangrove-themed tank includes epaulette sharks and bonnethead sharks as well as Atlantic rays and cownose rays. And don’t worry: the sharks’ diet consists of worms, crabs, shrimp, and small fish. Human fingers are not on the menu here, so it’s okay to reach out and gently stroke the animals as they glide gracefully through the 25,000-gallon tank.

The tank’s shallow edges and viewing windows allow visitors to interact directly with these species and appreciate the non-threatening nature of these sharks. The exhibit emphasizes the significant role sharks and rays play in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem as well as the importance of conserving vital nautical environments like mangroves and lagoons.

The Trust Family Foundation Shark & Ray Touch Tank is now on display at the New England Aquarium, 1 Central Wharf, Boston. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Monday, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The Shark & Ray Touch Tank opens at 9:30 a.m. each day and is included in the adult aquarium admission of $22.95. Purchase tickets here or at the ticket window. Take the MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, transfer to the Blue Line, and get off at the Aquarium stop.

Tom Vellner can be reached at tvellner@bu.edu.

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