You'll be forgiven if you take a fleeting glance at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific's latest tourist-season promotion and feel deja vu all over again. After all, posters with teeth-blaring maneaters and a "Shark Summer" logo with an ominous fin replacing the "a" in shark do evoke memories of 2001's infamous "Summer of the Shark."
For those fortunate to have forgotten that sad chapter in the history of the American media, the Summer of the Shark parlayed a June 2001 bull shark attack that severed the arm of 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast into a full-scale panic for months afterward as every subsequent report of a shark attack, near-attack or sighting around the planet became equal to, well, the contraction of swine flu today. Shark attacks became the No. 1 story that summer, with Time magazine devoting a cover to it.
But, in actuality, shark attacks were down 15 percent from the previous year worldwide that summer, Americans were 250 times more likely to get killed by lightning and it was later revealed 47 attacks prior to Arbogast's that year had received little to no media attention.
Shark researchers complained about the negative coverage, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center proved the media had been preoccupied by the wrong ominous threat, many others complained also. Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine included the Summer of the Shark in its roundup of ways Americans are kept scared shitless so they'll keep consuming.
So, yes, hearing about a near-local Shark Summer can put the smirk right back on your face. But wipe it off. That's not what the Aquarium's gig is all about. It only looks that way.
In truth, Shark Summer, which runs May 22 through Labor Day, Sept. 7, is about saving shark populations. "We hope to connect people with sharks in fun and engaging ways while teaching them about the importance of sharks and inspiring them to help protect these animals through their everyday choices," said Jerry Schubel, the Aquarium's president & CEO. For instance, did you know your makeup, lotions, vitamins and over-the-counter medications may contain shark? Shark Summer hopes to educate kids, and the adults chaperoning them, that they can help the shark population by simply shopping wisely.
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Of course, there will be more to the exhibit than that, including more than 200 real-life sharks and rays that folks will have a chance to touch and feed . . . with something other than body parts. And speaking of sharks and rays, the Aquarium will unveil a new species known as a shark-ray, a rare animal that can weigh nearly 300 pounds and grow up to 8 feet in length. And outdoor Shark Zone will include areas for crafts, games, appearances by shark and ray mascots and an interactive "Shark Cart" where a growing baby shark can be seen inside its egg case. The new film Shark Smart will play in Honda Theater and the new Sharklock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Mahi family program will be staged in the Marine Life Theater. Special tours and lectures will also be scheduled throughout the summer.
Perhaps that will finally bring to mind something other than a media feeding frenzy far scarier than the one American death by shark yearly.
Sink your teeth into this for tickets and other info.