701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, FL 33602
Payment options: Credit cards accepted
More in this neighborhood: Channelside
What you get: Learn the good, bad and gross of being a shark biologist by doing the work yourself. This behind-the-tanks tour lets visitors prepare the food and feed it to the aquarium’s largest shark during their regular thrice-weekly feedings.
The tour starts in the commissary where the food is prepared. You see the huge freezer and refrigerator where the restaurant-quality fish and seafood is stored and thawed. Then you strap on a plastic apron and gloves and get to work.
The job? Inserting multivitamin pills into the innards of raw fish.
This can get a little messy and isn’t for anyone squeamish about handling fish guts. You’ve got to poke a hole with your finger into a mushy spot and push in a pill. Then you have to wipe the fish blood off the counter and squeegy the dirty water down the floor drain.
From there, you head to the roof to feed the sharks (nurse, sand bar, zebra, black-tipped and white-tipped), as well as the huge sea turtle and sting ray that live in the 93,000-gallon tank. You’ve got to strap on a halter to go out onto a platform perched over the tank. (They obviously don’t want anyone to lose their balance and fall in.) Participants take turns feeding the sharks large pieces of fish using a metal grabber pole, which requires some finesse and dexterity.
Did you know? Feeding sharks takes patience and precision. You can’t just throw in a bucket of chum and let them go at it. Sharks have to be in the right mood to feed and, note to swimmers, they don’t go after anything that hits the water.
Wow moments: The feeling of an 200-pound shark eating a fish off your grabber pole is pretty amazing. You can actually feel a little suction as the shark inhales the food in one bite. It’s also exciting to see a shark come above the water, flashing its full set of teeth to grab the fish and take it down. Reminds you of the movie, Jaws.
Tip: Wear sneakers or a closed-toe shoe with no heel for working in the food preparation area and feeding sharks from the platform. It can get hot outside by the tank, so lightweight, comfortable clothing is also recommended.
Is it worth it?: There’s a world of difference between seeing sharks from behind thick glass and feeding them at dinner time. Whether you’re looking to learn more about these much-aligned creatures or just wanting an adrenaline rush, these tours are a sure bet.
The gist: Tours are at 1:30 p.m. Sundays and 3 p.m. Tuesdays and last up to two hours. Participants must be 12 years of age, and reservations are required. $65 for non-members and $50 for members and includes admission to the aquarium and a “I fed the sharks’’ apron. Maximum six people.
-- Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writer