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Philly2Philly's Christine Tarlecki swims with Sharks at Camden's Adventure Aquarium

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When I was in high school, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I went to the Marine Science Consortium iChristine Tarlecki swims with the sharks at Adventure Aquarium in Camden. Photo: Adventure Aquariumn Wallops Island, Virginia to study during the summer and always had a great time. I didn’t continue down that path of study, but I always enjoyed visiting aquariums and I figured looking at the fish on the other side of the glass was as close as I’d ever get.

I was wrong.

Ever since I heard about the shark swim experience at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, NJ, I knew I had to try it. I set a date, and was excited all week.

The day came and I was ready!  My friend Samara and I headed off to Jersey and enjoyed the day with the fishes. As the time grew closer, I began to get a bit nervous. As always, the anticipation is the worst part. Adventure Aquarium hosts Bob Falkenstein and Daniel Russo took me and my crew up to the Shark Realm along with Jennifer Felton and her family from Toms River, who bought her this experience as a birthday present (Happy Birthday Jen!) and we stood outside the tank while Dan told us about all the species of sharks in the 550,00 gallon tank. Sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, a hammerhead shark and other all reside in this huge tank where I was about into jump into.

We went into the Shark Shack, a viewing area right above the tank, with a window so the aquarium guests can look on in excitement and horror. Jen and I wriggled into our wetsuits and braced ourselves. Dan had told us the water was going to be cold, about 71 degrees, and even with a full wetsuit I could definitely feel a chill when walking down the steps into the water.

Being above the tank was amazing- it felt like a movie set, like the Abyss or Deep Blue Sea. I thought we’d swim around the top of the tank while the sharks swim below, but I was wrong. These sharks come all the way to the top and demonstrate their best Jaws moment, their dorsal fins slicing through the water at us.

I had to test out my mask and snorkel for fit, turning my back to the open water, which unnerved me for a bit, but then I put my fins on, followed our handler Steve Quartararo down the steps and around the perimeter, there was a catwalk of sorts where we would float and watch the sharks swimming around. I looked up, said hi to everyone and plunged myself into the water, and hoped I wouldn’t become shark chum.

Being in the shark realm was quite peaceful; watching the little fishies swim by, and here comes a huge tiger shark. It came right up at me, it’s amber eyeball calmly checking me out, when it abruptly turned and meandered away. About 15 more minutes of sharks checking us out, I found it was scary and exciting and fun! They probably needed some excitement, what with swimming in circles all day, so they would swim by, casually eye us, then swim away. I had to be careful not to splash round or move my arms too quick- I didn’t want to attract any more attention than I already had. I didn’t relish touching a shark. Their skin is very rough and sandpapery and could possibly scratch me, draw blood, and then we’d have our own Jaws moment. So I kept calm. No one needs to hear about a Philly2Philly.com reporter getting chewed on!

 

 

A couple times the sharks were VERY close and Steve would guide them away with a white stick, and they would just swish off. After a half hour or so, we went into the Stingray Lagoon  where cownose rays and leopard rays were happily swimming around, especially because they knew we were coming to feed them.

The rays are bottom feeders so they swoop up and grab the food from below. I shuffled out to the middle of the tank and Steve handed me some raw fish to feed the rays with. They were all over me, practically leaping out of the water and grinning with delight. The rays are very friendly and smooth, and love people. I was laughing the whole time- the group of about 15 was a quite an enthusiastic bunch. Swimming around with them for about 20 minutes was great, very relaxing and calming.

Then, back into the shark tank for another 15 minutes, where I was starting to get cold and I think the sharks were used to us by then. Walking out of the shark realm was pretty wild to see where I just was and where the sharks reside- it was definitely a great adventure!

The Aquarium is also celebrating the holidays with its Christmas Celebration, and the whole place is decked out with beautiful holiday décor, a veritable underwater winter wonderland, featuring twinkling lights, glowing trees and gently falling snow including a visit with Santa Claus.

Anyone can do this adventure- you have to be at least 12 and if you are under 18 a parent or guardians must accompany you. It is $165 for the swim, including the stingray swim, and you get to keep your snorkel and mask, along with a t-shirt and photo. Check out www.adventureaquarium.com for more info, as well as the other adventures you can do.

Just remember, if you do this swim…you’re in their world now!

So what adventure should I do next??

Special thanks to Kim Walker, and the Adventure Aquarium cast- Bob Falkenstein, Daniel Russo and Steve Quartararo, as well as Joe Vallee.

See ALL of Christine's experience on Philly2Philly's Video Page

See all of Christine's experience on Philly2Philly Video's Page. The Adventure Aquarium is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. 365 days a year, and is a waterfront treasure, featuring nearly 200,000 square feet and over 2 million gallons of water. Adventure Aquarium is the only aquarium in the world to exhibit hippos and the only aquarium in the country with both a Hammerhead shark and tiger sharks on exhibit. Admission is $21.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 2-12.

For more information or to order tickets online, visit www.AdventureAquarium.com and let the ADVENTURE begin!

Christine Tarlecki can be reached at engchik@comcast.net , and on FaceBook, as well as http://engchik.blogspot.com , and on Twitter under engchik

Photos courtesy of Adventure Aquarium