Planet Shark: Predator or Prey... The Experience | Boise, ID 2017-07-08

The last thing that I ever expected in visiting my parents in Boise, Idaho during the first week of July this summer was sharks. Landlocked Idaho? I am sure the Syfy Channel could cook up some bull sharks invading the state's lakes and rivers, but here in the real world, I never thought that the laser shark focus that rules my life currently would follow me on my vacation.

OK store, great window...
But there my stepmother Jo Ann and I were, visiting a small bookstore in Meridian, when I had one of those moments that some chalk up to luck or kismet or fate or pure coincidence... and I will not rule out any of those things in this case (even if I don't believe in the first three of them). The store visit itself was pretty disappointing; the owners seemed pretty convinced they had a dandy little place, but when I asked to see their non-fiction section and it turned out to be a mere three bookcases with books piled in every direction in no discernible order at all, I knew that it wasn't likely that the store would end up on my list of places to (irregularly) visit again. (Even if I wanted to do so, I don't even remember the name of the store...)

And yet, there was something worthwhile posted on their front window... a small poster for an event called Sharks After Dark, some sort of adults-only party taking place at the Discovery Center of Idaho. The picture was clearly that of the now infamous Left Shark costume, but what was the connection with sharks? The Discovery Center of Idaho had no aquarium (I had been told), so was it just a costume party of some sort? Or was there something actually going on at the museum that involved sharks? And in Idaho, no less?

Not that it mattered really, I thought at first. The date for the party was July 21 and I left the state to go back home on the 9th. So attending the party was out of the question. But what was the shark connection? I kind of put it aside for a day or so, but finally jumped onto the Discovery Center's website and found out there was indeed some sort of shark exhibition taking place there. The next question, raised by Jo Ann, was whether it was just one of the overly kid-friendly activity events at the museum, since Discovery Centers everywhere in the world generally focus primarily on entertaining children with science. 

Luckily, I looked up the name of the exhibition – Planet Shark: Predator or Prey - The Experience – on Google and found the website for the company that developed the displays and installs them in museums worldwide. From the pictures on their company website, Planet Shark is meant to be an all-ages event that immerses the visitor in the world of sharks almost completely, using life-size models (even of a whale shark), video projection, fossils, props from movies, real diving and research equipment, and computer interaction. It sounded and looked exactly like the sort of thing I would love to visit. And so I did...

On my last full day of my trip, Jo Ann dropped my father Darrell and I off at the Discovery Center to give us a couple of hours to go through the entire thing. There was hardly anything at the Center to betray the fact that they had some sort of shark event going on, besides the numerous posters for the Sharks After Dark party later in the month. There were all sorts of large signage on the front and along the road about their Science of Idaho Water exhibit, but I would later walk around the building and find a few small vertical banners spaced out along the length of the museum, but I really couldn't see them when we drove past on our approach to the parking lot. 

After paying for admission, the next room was nothing but kids playing with a wide array of science apparatus and games – mostly involving the "Idaho water" they were promoting, and I actually started to doubt the visit. But then I looked past the kids' room and saw the wide, smiling jaws of a full-sized Carcharodon carcharias inviting us to join her...

We were told by a museum guide that the bodies of the shark
models were made of fiberglass, but that most of the teeth
were from the actual species of shark.

My father Darrell just chillin' with a replica of the jaws
 of an ancient Megalodon.

Great hammerhead shark.

A really cool fossil featuring a Helicoprion whirl. Seriously, if
you haven't seen what one of these extinct sharks looked
like, you should really Google it. Mind-blowing...

My dad looking at the huge display of fossilized shark
teeth. That's a porbeagle shark on the far wall to the right.

According to the sign, there are over 26,000 teeth in this pile, which
roughly approximates the number of teeth the average shark goes
through in a lifetime...

A whole lot of fossilized Megalodon teeth.

The sign leading into the second room. For the record, this is a sawfish,
which is more closely related to rays, with its gills on the underside of its
body like others in its family. Sawsharks, however, are actually sharks, with
the gills on the side of their heads. They also have a pair of barbels halfway
 down their snouts, and their teeth can also come out and be replaced,
while a sawfish's teeth do not.

I was a bit surprised to see this quote on the wall in the second
room, but it is an excellent line...

No, these are not exceedingly rare half-sharks, just partial models
strewn along the walls of the second room...

The Top of the Food Chain room had about a dozen display cases
showing the variety of shark species by comparing sets of their respective jaws.

My favorite set of shark jaws in the exhibit belonged to the goblin
shark. Love how gnarly the teeth look in the center at both the
top and the bottom.

My favorite shark after the great white... the lovely and
powerful tiger shark.

The third room's theme was about interaction between sharks and
humans. Unfortunately, part of that story involves attacks on humans,
 and so part of the room was dedicated to video featuring
 interviews with shark attack victims.

One display case featured mass media that showcased sharks, including
several issues of Time Magazine throughout the years where sharks made
the front cover for various reasons. This copy of the book "Jaws" is
not only signed by its author Peter Benchley, but was given as a gift
to Australian Rodney Fox, a professional spear-fisherman who became
one of the most famous shark attack survivors of all time.

The shark in the movie version of "Jaws" was supposed to be abnormally
large, and to achieve this effect in a couple of underwater shots, Steven
Spielberg's team employed a couple of sized-down shark cages. The
half-sized cage above held a stuntman named Carl Rizzo, who was a little
person. The scene where the shark is thrashing about at the top of the cage
occurred when the live shark they were filming got caught in the cage's
 bridle and panicked. However, Rizzo was not in the cage at the time and
refused to go into it after he saw the shark's behavior.  The footage was
dramatic enough that they used it in the film anyway.

This is the quarter-sized cage used in the scene where the shark
attacks the cage directly. Note the bent bars in the front and on one
side. (This is the scene where Hooper escapes and hides on the ocean floor
while the shark switches its attack to Brody and Quint on the Orca.) A dummy
 was used inside the cage for this scene.

And here is the one of the dummies that were used in
the cages, and to the right on the floor of the display
is the dive suit employed by Carl Rizzo.

This is a real shark cage that belongs to Rodney Fox's dive expedition company.

The view looking out through the gaps of the shark cage at the great
 white model (note tracking device on its dorsal fin) behind the cage.

My dad took this picture of me inside the shark cage.
He's been waiting to lock me in a cage for decades...

A nifty display case where it set up "Tale of the Tape"-style battles
between a bull shark and an American alligator, and also a
great white shark and an Australian saltwater crocodile.

Some cool floor graphics led you throughout the display from one
room to the next. Here we are heading to the fourth and saddest
room of all...

The fourth room was about mankind's relentless and purposeless
slaughter of sharks, whether intentional or otherwise. The worst part
was watching the videos they were showing in here. I honestly
had to take a knee in this room, and I will admit that the room
"got a little dusty for me".

A display case full of illegally captured shark fins, probably
confiscated in a raid. There were actually two cases full of
them, but one had enough impact on me.

Products of the shark finning trade. Probably the most depressing thing in the room
was a live clock projection on the floor of the room that would start at zero each
hour and as the minutes passed, a tally of the sharks killed (on average) per
hour throughout the world would mount up to a horrific level. When I shot video
of the clock, it still had ten minutes left in the hour and the count was well past
9,000 sharks killed.

I took around 150 photos in my trip to Planet Shark in Boise, and so these photos only represent some of the highlights of my visit. Because I had visited the company's page and saw numerous slides of their exhibit at various museums, I noticed there were larger elements that would not fit comfortably in the relatively small environs of the Discovery Center of Idaho. 

As I mentioned earlier, a life-size model of a whale shark was part of the exhibit elsewhere but was not doable apparently here. Likewise, a walk-through projection room where the visitor is surrounded on all sides by video of sharks and other ocean life. I am keeping my eyes on where Planet Shark is going to be installed in the future. (It has already been to places like Phoenix and Honolulu, and I see it is booked for Wichita next summer.) I am hoping it will get installed somewhere relatively closer to home in So Cal so that I can spend even more time with the exhibit.

Keep chompin'!


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