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Florida Aquarium To Host "Shark Week" Events This Weekend

“Oooooh, a shark! Look! That's the one that ate Nemo!"

Keriann Roque ran up to the glass where she pointed out a shark swimming in the tank a few feet above her head. She gasped as it circled around to swim closer. The 12 year old was at the Florida Aquarium for a summer camp field trip.

She said learning more about sharks has made her less afraid of them.

"One of my goals when I get bigger is to learn how to surf and you have to be comfortable around sea animals,” Roque said.

From movies like "Jaws" to Disney's "Finding Nemo," along with all of the negative attention brought by a rash of shark attacks off North Carolina this summer - 12 so far - sharks often get a bad rap.

The aquarium is taking advantage of the Discovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" special this week to highlight this alpha predator, while still trying to curb fear of them.

"We should look at them and see how great they are,” said John Than, a marine biologist at the Florida Aquarium. He says sharks do a lot more good than bad.

"They are a top predator in the ecosystems, they help control the populations so there's no overgrown abundance of a certain fish or animal and they also eat the diseased and sick fish that would cause a lot of trouble in the fisheries, too."

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Credit International Shark Attack File

And they're certainly not man-eating. Than says unprovoked shark attacks are usually a case of "mistaken identity."

Some conditions, like murky or warmer water, can't be controlled. That's part of the reason more sharks have flocked to the shores of North Carolina this summer, resulting in a higher number of attacks. But swimmers can take precautions.

Tips for Staying Safe in the Water

"Don't wear jewelry or light clothing because it looks like bait fish in the water and its actually what the sharks are cueing in on,” Than said.

The aquarium will be sharing these tips and more, through guest speakers and educational activities this weekend at the downtown Tampa aquarium.

"Some of the activities the Florida Aquarium is going to have this weekend for Shark Week include 'What kind of shark are you?' so kids will get to go through different stages in the aquarium and figure out what kind of shark they are based on different answers based on their height, what kind of water they want to live in and what kinds of foods they eat,” said Katherine Claytor, the public relations manager at the Florida Aquarium.

They'll be dispelling myths and trying to engage the next generation of marine biologists, children like 6-year-old Avery Colvin, 7-year-old Diego Rivera and 6-year-old Malyia Thomas, who named their favorite things about the sharks.

"Them big," Avery Colvin said

"They have gills and sharp teeth," Diego Rivera said.

"They like to eat fish and I like to eat fish, too," Malyia Thomas said. 

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Credit International Shark Attack File

It seems like every day during the summer you hear about another shark attack. But Florida only had 28 recorded shark bites in 2014, according to the International Shark Attack File from the Florida Museum of Natural History.

That was still higher than any other state, with Volusia County posting the highest number of attacks in Florida at 10. But Than says Florida beaches are not any more dangerous than others.

"We posted the most because we have the most shoreline and the most tourists visiting our waters so you put those two together and it's more common,” Than said.

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Credit Daylina Miller/WUSF
The Florida Aquarium will host several "Shark Week" activities on July 11 and 12.

"Shark Week" on Discovery Channel continues through the weekend, but marine biologists like Than warn viewers to have a healthy dose of skepticism as they watch. He said the documentaries often portray a lot of truth but also exaggerate and sometimes misinform in the name of entertainment.

"With anything on TV, do your homework and actually read up on it and ask questions,” Than said. “We sometimes mistake TV as the correct answer and you don't want people to lie to you but they're trying to sell a show and get people to watch."

The aquarium is also sponsoring Shark Con, which is being held this weekend at the Florida State Fairgrounds.