Shark! Museum Exhibit Features Harte Research Institute Shark Tagging Expeditions

August 28, 2014

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CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A new exhibit opening Friday, Aug. 29, at the Houston Museum of Natural Science takes you into a shark cage, tracks great white sharks swimming in the Gulf of Mexico in real time, and shares conservation efforts all over the world, including those led by researchers at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

 “Shark!” features photos and information from scientists and researchers with the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies and the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation. The marine biology section of the exhibit was developed by Dr. Wes Tunnell, HRI Associate Director and Endowed Chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science. Tunnell is the Curator of Marine Biology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) and Project Manager for the Shark! exhibition.

“Sharks are misunderstood,” Tunnell said. “The hype in the classic horror film ‘Jaws’ and misinformation in other movies and documentaries have had a huge impact on the perception of this very important group and their role in our oceans and relationship with people. This fictional representation has caused most people to fear the oceans and not want to enter into the shark’s environment. It is true that there are shark attacks on people in small numbers each year; however, the real threat is now in the opposite direction.”

The limited engagement exhibit is at the Houston Museum of Natural Science through March 22, and will open at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi in early May.

HRI scientists contributed photos and information panels that decorate the walls of the exhibit. One photo shows HRI scientists near Port Aransas, Texas, tagging a tiger shark more than 12 feet long. Another captures the tagging of two sharks, one 9 feet and one even larger that came up to the research boat at the same time. Both were tagged with satellite tags and released safely.

“Dr. Stunz and his team’s tagging efforts play a central role in one part of the research section of the exhibition with images of their tagging and research,” Tunnell said.

Four sharks tagged by the HRI team are the highlight of the OCEARCH Global Shark Tracker, on display at the museum, and accessible online at http://www.ocearch.org/

The tracker follows the real-time movements of the sharks named Hunter, Madeline, Sam Houston, and Wyatt that were tagged in the Gulf of Mexico off Port Aransas.

Follow Harte Research Institute and the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation for updates on the sharks’ locations.

Tunnell said the exhibit raises awareness of the plight of sharks around the world with a focus on the Gulf of Mexico and will give visitors information on shark conservation.

The real draw, Tunnell said, is an interactive shark cage that visitors can get in as swimming shark images are projected on the wall and a model of a hammerhead shark hangs from above.

The exhibit also has two shark touch tanks with two smaller species of sharks, the bamboo shark and epaulette shark, and a model of a research vessel with a great white shark on the shark research lift.

The exhibit was funded by Texas State Aquarium, and designed and built by HMNS with input from the aquarium, HRI, and OCEARCH.