CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The notion of touching a shark may not be a thought that comes to mind when you visit an aquarium, but the SC Aquarium is offering just that.
The Shark Shallows exhibit, which is located on the aquarium's river side terrace overlooking the Charleston Harbor, is set to open on Saturday.
The exhibit features a 20,000-gallon tank shaped in the figure 8 that's filled with bonnethead sharks, cownose rays and southern stingrays that visitors will be able to touch.
"Where else can you say that you've actually touched a shark?" asked Kate Dittloff, the public relations manager at the SC Aquarium."We're just really excited to have guests come down and have that experience."
The aquarium had a preview of the exhibit on Wednesday, and according to Dittloff, kids were more apt than adults to dip their hands into the water to touch the sea animals.
"It's kind of funny, because we find the adults are a little bit more hesitant to stick their hands in the tank," said Dittloff who attributed the reluctance to what we see on TV or in movies like Jaws.
I admit I had some trepidation sticking my hand in the water especially when one of the bonnethead sharks (think "mini hammerheads") came by, but aquarium officials said there's really no danger because of the animals' docile behavior and the locations of their mouths which are on the underside of the heads.
"To be honest, we are not concerned, because of the gentle nature of these species and where their mouths are located," Dittloff said."The exhibit will be staffed full time and each individual guest that comes through here will learn the proper method of engaging with these animals which includes the "2-finger approach."
The 2-finger approach is basically taking two fingers together, sticking them in the tank and letting the animals swim by as you touch their backs.
"The kids have just been so proud of themselves after they stick their hand in the tank and actually touch a shark that they immediately start bragging to their friends,'I touched a shark!'" Dittloff said.
Shark Shallows, which took six months to build, was created to give attendees more interaction with the sea animals, and it's not going to be the last facility to do so.
The aquarium is currently planning an expansion to its sea turtle hospital which would bring the medical unit to the first floor of the center. Aquarium officials say visitors will be able to use touch screens and iPads to interact with the hospital, and see biologists weighing turtles, taking measurements and giving them care.
In the meantime, visitors can look forward to coming "fingers to fins with sharks" on Saturday.
"I guarantee once you get your hands on one of these guys, you're going to walk away caring about the ocean and these species. trying to make a change so you can protect them and help the environment as a whole," Dittloff said.