Children and adults can embark on an underwater journey into the world of sharks, no scuba gear required, at the Maryland Science Center's "Sharks! Fact and Fantasy" exhibit, open today until Sept. 7.
"People have so many misconceptions [about sharks] after the 'Jaws' movies," says Barbara Rolfes, director of special exhibits at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, where the traveling exhibit originated.
After visiting the shark exhibit, she says, "they learn that sharks are a fascinating species and that there's something to know about them besides the size of their teeth."
Visitors to the exhibit can walk through a diorama of sharks and shark sounds, with a dive card as a guide to the 24 life-size models of 17 different shark species.
Other attractions include a section called "How Do You Measure Up?" which allows visitors to compare their height and weight with various sharks, and a life-size animated gray reef shark model that illustrates the predictability of a shark's behavior before attacking its prey.
Another section of the exhibit provides information on the eating habits of sharks. One display shows some of the items found in the stomachs of tiger sharks, including a fur coat, a hubcap, a suit of armor and a propeller.
The Maryland Science Center is the exhibit's seventh stop on a 15-venue tour, which will continue to the Dallas Museum of Natural History upon leaving Baltimore in September.
"We don't have a natural history museum in Baltimore, so it makes us the most logical place to have [the exhibit]," says Kathleen Ward, spokeswoman for the Science Center.
Science Center exhibits "have to be hands-on and engaging in some way. This exhibit meets all of our requirements," Ms. Ward says.
Bill Haas, project manager for the installation of the exhibit, thinks visitors can learn important lessons from "Sharks! Fact and Fantasy."
"You get a certain sense of the actual scale of the sharks involved," says Mr. Haas. He hopes visitors will learn that sharks "actually play a part in an ecosystem."
This is a lesson that 9-year-old Joey Mead of Timonium picked up during his visit to the portion of the exhibit that was open Thursday. "They are living animals and they're part of the environment and they're actually part of the food chain. I thought before that we could kill them all off and it wouldn't make a difference," Joey said.
Ten-year-old Elizabeth Levin, another visitor to the exhibit, learned that the jaws of the Carcharocles megalodon are "big enough to swallow a small car. That's pretty amazing."
The "Sharks! Fact and Fantasy" exhibit opens today and continues until Sept. 7 at the Maryland Science Center. A "Sharks Fun Day" will be held for families at the Science Center from noon to 6 p.m. July 11. Videos and interactive displays will be available, as well special activities in the K.I.D.S room.
The Maryland Science Center is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Fridays to Sundays. Admission, which includes three floors of exhibits, the IMAX Theater and the Davis Planetarium, is $8.50 for adults and $5.50 for students ages 4 to 17, seniors and military.