Whether you love them, hate them or fear them, sharks fascinate us.
“They're at the top of the food chain, and so are we,” said Spencer Steward, organizer and creator of the first annual Shark Con, being held at the Tampa Convention center this weekend. “Sharks are older than trees; unchanged for millions of years. And they have an air of mystery.”
Steward hopes to uncover some of the mystery surrounding the underwater predators and educate people about ocean conservation at the event which benefits the Florida Aquarium's Coral Reef Restoration, Mote Marine Laboratory's shark research and Shark Angels, a shark education program for children.
More than a dozen speakers are lined up, including Sylvia A. Earle, oceanographer, explorer, author and National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence; Jim Abernethy, an award-winning underwater photographer, filmmaker, author and pioneer in shark encounters without a cage; and Robert E. Hueter, senior scientist and director of Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research.
The event, presented by the Florida Aquarium, also will feature touch tanks with bamboo sharks and sea urchins, and other creatures including tarantulas, lizards, turtles and alligators; an ocean art auction featuring underwater paintings and photography and a “Jaws” memorabilia collection.
Shark exploitation movies “The Last Shark,” the first “Jaws” “rip-off” movie, and “Monster Shark,” a film shot off the Florida coast, also will be screened. In conjunction with Shark Con, the nearby Tampa Theatre will host a special 10 p.m. screening of “Jaws” on Saturday.
Visitors at the convention center can have their photo taken with a live “mermaid,” pirates and underwater superhero Aquaman.
Steward hopes Shark Con will become an annual event, and one that turns the fascination people have with sharks and uses it to achieve conservation gains for sharks and the marine ecosystems they are part of.
“My personal belief is education through entertainment,” says Steward, who has a degree in marine biology and biological oceanography from the University of Miami. “When you entertain people, you can create a passion in them. And when they have a passion for something they tend to make a change and protect it. I want (people) to walk away with a better understanding of sharks and how close we are to irrevocably damaging the ocean.”