Encounter sharks up-close this summer at Adventure Aquarium

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "Sharks are not the mindless eating machines that everybody thinks that they are," said Erik Hanson, Senior Biologist at Adventure Aquarium.

Hanson would know. He has spent the last 12 years diving in the tank to care for sharks and lived to tell the tale.

"They should be revered, not feared," he said. "There's no other animal like them in the world and I just, I love sharks so much."

His place of work, Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey, seems to agree. In fact, they dedicated the whole summer to sharks for the fourth year in a row.

Shark Summer was also a great opportunity to reintroduce live dive shows and the shark and ray encounter, both of which were paused due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Michele Gipe celebrated her birthday by jumping in a wetsuit and snorkeling near the sharks this morning.

"I've always wanted to," said Gipe. "Like, when the sharks come close enough for the eyes, they're just awesome."

Participants snorkel stationarily behind a small rock wall while sharks swim in front of them. A professional biologist stands by the in-water guests at all times to control any sharks that may come too close. This is followed by a feeding session with playful stingrays, who happen to be related to the shark family.

Smaller guests and those who wish to stay dry can experience sharks up-close in a variety of ways, including walking down the mind-bending Shark Realm tube and the child-friendly Shark Bridge.

"This is his favorite place in the whole world," said Brigitte Kleinschmidt, who visited with her son, Ari.

Before the pandemic, the Kleinschmidts used to visit once per month. However, today's visit was their first in more than a year.

"It's wonderful. With his special needs and stuff too, this has been like the best experience building up his confidence," she said about her son. "So, we're really happy to be back."

Shark Summer will culminate with Shark Awareness Weekend, August 20-22. Guests can enjoy discounted and abbreviated encounters with sharks and rays that week with 50% of proceeds benefiting the Association of Zoos & Aquariums SAFE Program.

Depending on the state of pandemic restrictions, all shark-related experiences will continue at the Aquarium even after Shark Summer concludes in September. To learn more about Adventure Aquarium's visitor restrictions and to reserve tickets, visit their website.

Erik Hanson contributed video to this report.

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