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‘Planet Shark: Predator or Prey’ lands at Science Museum of Virginia for summer | Arts & Theater

The Science Museum of Virginia is bringing predators of the sea to Richmond this summer with the opening of a traveling exhibit, “Planet Shark: Predator or Prey.”

“What you’ll see as you walk around is a mix of real artifacts, replica artifacts and interactive stations,” said museum spokeswoman Jennifer Guild.

Lit with blue lights and adorned with replica sharks, the exhibit has an underwater feel. In the immersive SENSORY4™ gallery, 11 large screens play a 45-minute film featuring underwater close-ups of sharks and other marine life.

Timshel Purdum, Director of Education, is excited about the new exhibit and the educational value it offers.

“I like seeing all the jaws in one place because I like seeing all the different things they eat,” Purdum said. “Because all the different shapes tell you what his dinner is.”

Guests can learn about extinct and modern sharks on interactive tablets. With this educational tool, people can see animated models of species that existed thousands of years ago.

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Purdum, as a biologist, has a wealth of knowledge about sharks.

“Sharks belong to a group of animals called Chondrichthyes., and one of the things they all have in common is a cartilaginous body,” Purdum said. “So their whole skeleton is made of the same cartilage that would be in your nose or your ears.”

Chief Wonder Officer Richard Conti says one of the exhibit’s goals is to change people’s views of sharks. To challenge people’s views, the exhibit provides informative graphics and statistics on how many people die from shark attacks and how many sharks are killed by humans.

According to Purdum, in 2021 only 10 people died from shark attacks, and the average number of deaths from attacks per year is six. To contrast this statistic, the exhibit explains that around 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year due to overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.

The exhibit, which runs until September 5, delves into the widespread fear of sharks that is fueled by media and pop culture. It all started in 1916 when attacks off the coast of New Jersey caused panic and fear.

For the past five summers, the Science Museum of Virginia has hosted a traveling exhibit at its Dewey Gottwald Center. Courtney Moyer, Director of Communications and Curiosity, explains that when researching traveling exhibits, the museum looks for topics that have universal appeal.

“We try to go to exhibits that meet our criteria for interactivity, something we don’t cover in the museum, and then we also try to vary the topics,” Moyer said.

“You bring shows that travel around the world, so it’s a great opportunity to see something that you wouldn’t normally see,” Conti said. “It’s fun for us because then the whole museum can play a little bit with it.”

Weaving the shark theme throughout the museum, there is a “Great White Shark” film in the Dome and two art exhibits: “Picture Science,” which highlights the skeletal anatomy of vertebrate fish; and “JARS: Sharks on Loan,” which features cartilaginous fish from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, according to the SMV website.

Changing perspectives has been a key goal for the museum over the past 10 years, Conti said.

“Instead of making the museum an all-science museum, let’s focus on the things people care about and connect science to that,” he said. “It’s been so much easier, so much more fun and I think it’s better. And so instead of trying to get people to come see a chemistry gallery or go to a physics gallery, it gets people to come see sharks or food or communications or sports or music, things people are passionate about.

“Planet Shark: Predator or Prey” is created by Grande Experiences of Australia and lasts until Labor Day.

To learn more or plan a visit to “Planet Shark” at the Science Museum of Virginia, visit their website: smv.org.