The seven-foot-long sand tiger shark glides through the water, brushing up against the glass of the huge 120,000-gallon tank at the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center.
For most, that’d be close enough to the jagged-toothed creature. But say you wanted to get closer; much closer.
The aquarium’s shark diving program — open to any and all brave enough to enter a steel cage and spend half and hour with a trained diver as sharks circle around — is now in its fifth year.
Aquarist Maggie Seiler said often people who participate in the dives are afraid of the sharks at first, but learn to conquer their fear in the water.
It’s the most rewarding part of her job, she said.
“That’s always a lot of fun for me, being that person who exposed them to something new,” she said. “At the end of the dive they love it … You get to get close and have that experience, while staying safe.”
The aquarium is also set to open a new “Shark Keeper” program on July 1 that will allow guests at the aquarium to feed the sand tiger sharks, take a tour of the facilities and bring home a shark tooth.
But say you’re not feeling like getting up close and personal with some of nature’s best predators. The Long Island Aquarium also offers other programs with more cuddly creatures.
Guests can become “trainers” for a day, learning how the aquarium trains its seals and sea lions, and even get a kiss from one of the sea lions. There’s also a 45-minute long encounter with the aquarium’s African penguins, where participants learn more about the aquatic birds and how they’re cared for.
Kids can take part in the “Scientist for a Day” program through the aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute. Children from ages 9 to 14 will get to collect scientific samples using the same tools ocean scientists use. That program runs periodically and requires advance registration.
For more information on the aquarium’s programs, contact the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center at (631) 208-9200 ext. 426.
Photo by Paul Squire