The allure of Maui’s marine wonderland draws millions of visitors to the Valley Isle, but in recent years, there has been a growing trepidation to get in the water as a result of numerous reports of local shark attacks combined with the media’s ill representation of sharks as bloodthirsty killers. While there have been efforts to develop education about the reality of sharks through media channels such as Discovery’s Shark Week, humans are able to comprehend knowledge to a much greater degree when they are able to learn through firsthand experience with professional guidance, rather than simply reading an article online or watching a documentary.
Take the plunge into an educational immersion about these misunderstood predators in their world beneath the waves with the resources available at Maui Ocean Center. Visitors can come face to face with the same sharks that they would encounter snorkelling in Hawaiian waters and learn about the species’ feeding habits, behavior and importance in marine ecosystems. Maui Ocean Center’s exhibit, The Open Ocean, is a 750,000-gallon salt-water aquarium that offers a 240-degree view of a plethora of sharks, stingrays and fish species, all of which are native to Hawaiian waters. Exhibits such as this one can help give people the chance to understand that sharks are not the fearsome predators Hollywood has misled them to believe, but rather crucial components of a healthy marine bionetwork.
The Maui Ocean Center collects all of their species from native Hawaiian waters in compliance with government permits and continuously rotates their sharks and rays from the aquarium to the ocean. During this cycling of specimens, each time a shark enters or departs the aquarium, a blessing ceremony is performed by a Maui Ocean Center Hawaiian cultural advisor. In Hawaiian culture, sharks are na ‘aumakua, personal gods or family. The belief is that when a family member passed away, they would return in the form of a shark, which is a significant reason that Hawaiians do not consume sharks, but instead provide offerings of food to their deified relative.
Once people begin to feel more confident about co-existing with sharks, they can participate in the exhilarating opportunity to safely dive with sharks in the Open Ocean Exhibit tank through the Shark Dive Maui™ program. Not only will divers be able to explore the mystical beauty of swimming alongside sharks and rays, but intimate groups of no more than two divers paired with one instructor allow guests to ask personal questions and receive attentive edification from their dive master. Shark Dive Maui™ is among several educational opportunities available through the Maui Ocean Center, such as sleepovers in the aquarium for school field trips, Sea Talks and the Ka Holo Moana, The Mobile Aquarium.
As Maui Ocean Center continues to develop marine awareness in all generations, their mission “to foster understand, wonder and respect for Hawaii’s marine life” continues to help people recognize and respect the delicate splendour of sharks in our beautiful world.