Monday, September 3, 2007

Sharkey, Extra Large

I was going through old family photographs the other day, and I came across one of me standing outside the Aquarium when I was two years old. On the back, my father had written the date, and a note that I had been fascinated by the sharks. It seem I wondered how they kept all of those teeth clean.

I had no idea that my love affair with sharks had started so young. As a child of about ten, I remember reading endlessly about sharks, and taking trips to the Aquarium when we were on vacation. Those days, I lived in South Africa, and the Aquarium I would visit was in Durban. It was a poorly lit place, with bubble windows, and I used to feel that I was deep underwater with the fish. There were two ways to observe the sharks. One could watch through the windows, peering into the murky water, or one could climb up to the roof and stare down into the open tank. I would spend hours there.

I'm spoiled now. I live a few hours from Baltimore Aquarium, and I've been to Sea World. Last time I was in South Africa I went back to that old Aquarium, and it was depressing. The displays were old and cramped, and the only thrill that remained was the roof and the tantalising closeness of the sharks as they knifed through the water.

Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to be in the water with the sharks. I have a health respect for those teeth. Yet to be so close was an exhilarating thing.

I collect stuffed sharks. The first, Sharkey one, I bought at the Aquarium in New Orleans. He was a Great White, and I kept him in my handbag for years, until one day he mysteriously disappeared. I like to think that he returned to the ocean. The second, Hammurabi the Hammerhead, was given to me by a friend. As was Sharkey Too, another Great White. He lives in my handbag now. Sharkey Three is a three foot long behemoth, he swims eternally on top of a curio cabinet in my lounge.

Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is a joy to me. So many sharks, all crammed into seven days. I tape shows to watch and re-watch.

I'm not sure where my fascination came from, but I'm glad I have it. Sharks are wonderful living fossils, an essential part of the ecosystem and graceful predatory creatures. Still, I have to wonder as I did so many years ago, how DO they keep those teeth clean?

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