Sharks take a bite out of COEX

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Sharks take a bite out of COEX

A huge pair of gleaming white teeth greets visitors at the entrance. They belong to a 4.8-meter (15-foot) great white shark, caught in the Yellow Sea in 1998. Hanging above the entranceway, stuffed and docile, the shark’s apparent smile seems to conjure up the ominous “Jaws” theme music.
The COEX Aquarium planned its current shark exhibition with an eye toward changing the shark’s image as a vicious, man-eating predator. It’s unclear how the teeth at the entrance serve this goal. But the rest of the exhibit does offer many fascinating facts about these kings of the sea. Why do sharks shake their jaws when they prey on a victim? What is the exact shape of a shark’s tooth? (Not much change in that image so far.) Why are their kidneys so large? What does their skin feel like? The answers come through both visual and tactile exhibits.
In one section, the aquarium staff shines a light behind live shark eggs so observers can see the babies squirming inside. In another corner, spectators can pose for a picture inside the huge jawbone of a shark, which from top to bottom stands about as high as a child.
“Sharks are swimming above me! I can see their bellies!” says 10-year-old Jeong So-yeon, gazing into the huge overhead tank. “It’s cool to see the zebra shark. I thought that all sharks were huge and horrible and dangerous, but here I can see small sharks―they’re so cute!”
One feature some visitors wish had been included is a live shark-feeding. Park Ji-won, assistant manager of the aquarium, explains, “Every species of shark stays at their particular water level in order not to disturb the other sharks. So it could be dangerous for divers to feed them for a show, because the sharks would approach from every angle, rather than in a predictable group.”
Ms. Park’s words, along with the exhibit on a whole, don’t do much to paint the shark as man’s new best friend. Maybe it will have to settle for not being his No. 1 enemy. “Nobody can guarantee that sharks will not attack,” as Mr. Park says. “After all, sharks are sharks.”

by Kang Jin-ae

The COEX Aquarium is in the COEX Mall, southern Seoul. Take subway line No. 2 to Samseong station and use exit No. 6. The aquarium is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Aug. 30. Admission is 14,500 won ($12) for adults. For more information, call (02) 6002-6200.
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