Remain below the sharks

Rhiannon Adam @ Deep Sleep

Myra Bellin on swimming in a giant aquarium tank @ Slow Trains
The doors of the freight elevator open, and we step into the shark wing. Tim, the aquarium staffer in charge of volunteer divers, is taking me and a few other new recruits on a behind the scenes tour. He is eager to show us the shark tank. We are on the third level, one floor above the exhibits. The area is noticeably colder than the rest of the building, and the lights are dim. Our voices sound hollow in the cavernous space, bouncing off the walls and the water surface.

“You’d be surprised,” Tim tells us as we walk toward a waist-high railing, “at the way some new volunteers react to this tank.” His mouth twitches into a smile that, in spite of all efforts, he can’t quite suppress. Tim is a serious fellow—so serious that he borders on humorless. My biggest surprise is that Tim can actually smile, not that someone might balk at jumping into the shark tank.

I stand by the railing that follows the irregular tank circumference and watch fins slicing the surface. They move in every direction like bumper cars. I think they need a traffic cop with a loud whistle to impose order. Each dull gray or brown shark body is between six and ten feet long, between 100 – 350 pounds. Half a million gallons sounds like a lot of water. But when twenty-seven fully grown sandbar and sand tiger sharks occupy a tank slightly larger, along with smaller creatures like tangs and boxfish, it still looks like an overpopulated fishbowl. Only supersized.
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