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Shark Week at the Tennessee Aquarium August 1st - 7th

7/23/2010 11:20:53 AM

Above: A sandbar shark cruises the Tennessee Aquarium’s Secret Reef Exhibit. 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE            Contact: Thom Benson 423-785-3007
Save Sharks, Save Ourselves and Maybe Some Gas.
Tennessee Aquarium Visitors Get Fin-Tastic Facts During Shark Week

Chattanooga, Tenn. (July 23, 2010) – The Tennessee Aquarium is inviting visitors to view sharks in a positive light during Shark Week, August 1st through 7th. Visitors can have fun getting to know these toothy creatures while talking to SCUBA divers, posing inside the shark cage that inspired Peter Benchley to write the novel “Jaws,” or by actually touching a shark.

An eight year old visitor was quite surprised after touching an epaulette shark at the Tennessee Aquarium recently. “It’s kinda weird. The shark’s skin feels rough,” the boy said. “It’s not smooth and slimy like a catfish.” Senior Aquarist Sharyl Crossley knows all about the sandpaper-like qualities of a shark’s exterior. Her arm once got brushed while helping move a big shark at the Aquarium’s Animal Care Facility. “It felt like coarse grit sandpaper being raked across my skin,” Crossley said. “I was left with an interesting scrape like a rug burn for a few days.”

Sharks and stingrays have specialized scales called dermal denticles. “In some ways, it’s as if a shark has tiny teeth covering their skin,” said Tennessee Aquarium senior aquarist Rob Mottice. “In fact, dermal denticles are tiny scales with an enamel-like covering.” While most people are focused on the jagged teeth that lead to the inside of a shark, researchers have zeroed in on the millions of tiny teeth covering the outside of sharks. As it turns out, dermal denticles serve sharks in two amazing ways.

First, the arrangement of these scales may provide sharks with a natural layer of protection against infections. Dr. Anthony Brennan, a professor of biomedical research at the University of Florida, made a remarkable connection when he was “introduced” to a Galapagos shark. “I’m a polymer engineer by trade,” said Dr. Brennan. “The pattern of the shark’s skin looked like a mathematical model I was working on. Sharks and rays have a general skin pattern that we have applied to a medical device.” The result is a promising plastic wrap called Sharklet SafeTouch. “This wrap strongly inhibits the colonization and migration of bacteria,” said Dr. Brennan. The product is currently undergoing testing, but may one day give hospitals a non-toxic way to control bacterial infections by wrapping surfaces such as patient bedrails, bedside control panels and hospital trays.

Another company has developed a different wrap based on the dermal denticles of sharks. FastSkinz, produces a vehicle wrap with dimples that they claim reduces drag in the same fashion as a shark is aided by its skin pattern while swimming. According to the company’s website, their product can improve a vehicle’s fuel efficiency by as much as 20 percent.

Aquarium staffers hope that learning how these animals may be helping humans will be an eye-opening experience during Shark Week. “Our visitors have fun touching sharks and rays, watching them in the Secret Reef and seeing them in IMAX films such as Wild Ocean 3D,” said curator of fishes Thom Demas. “By the time they leave, we hope our guests no longer fear sharks as man-eaters, but respect them as animals worthy of conservation. Who knows what else we can learn from sharks?”

Other advances made through shark studies according to the Biomimicry Institute:

  - Epaulette sharks are being studied for ways to protect the brains of stroke patients.
  - Mimicking the musculature, body shape, tail shape, and degree of body tapering in sharks to improve the efficiency of watercraft.
  - Developing a non-toxic hull coating which resists barnacles saving large ship owners millions of dollars.


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