Go Into the Deep with Sharks at AMNH's New Exhibition

Sharks might have a fearsome reputation, but this new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History aims to educate the public on the species.
Sharks might have a fearsome reputation, but this new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History aims to educate the public on the species.

With an 8 year old in my house who is obsessed with all things ocean, the opening of the new Sharks exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History is being met with more than a little impatience, but it is absolutely worth the wait. The museum's newest interactive exhibit aims to dispel many of the myths surrounding sharks and the idea that they are terrifying. It does exactly that and makes it fun for both kids and adults.

Read on for our full review of the exhibit at one of our favorite kid-friendly museums in NYC, and find more must-see exhibits in our Museums Guide.

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Please keep in mind the Key to NYC rules, which now require all visitors ages 5+ to show proof of vaccination for indoor entertainment.

When you enter Sharks you are surrounded by huge black screens featuring almost life-sized sharks swimming between the screens and surrounding you, immersing you immediately in their world.

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parade of sharks at AMNH Sharks exhibition
The Parade of Sharks is an enlightening look at the species' diversity. 

You then come face to face with a huge model of a prehistoric shark known as the Megalodon—my son’s favorite—which doesn’t do a lot to dispel fear, though it is a wonderfully impactful start to the exhibit.

The immersion continues throughout. Touchless, interactive displays are entertaining and enlightening, providing a welcome way to engage, while still being conscious of the pandemic world. There is a lot of information in the exhibition, but these interactive displays make the key points easy for kids to understand without being condescending.

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Hunt Like a Hammerhead display at Sharks at the American Museum of Natural History
Enjoy a shark's eye view in the interactive Hunt Like a Hammerhead display.

A display that is likely to be a favorite with kids and adults alike allows you to hunt like a hammerhead. Here, you can direct a hunting shark using electroreception, a sixth sense that allows sharks to detect invisible electromagnetic fields.

Accompanying you throughout your shark journey are a multitude of life-size models ranging from the huge 33-foot-long whale shark to a tiny dwarf lantern shark. All have been painstakingly created by the museum’s in-house naturalist team using both traditional model-making and cutting-edge 3D printing techniques.

Huge screens throughout highlight different types of shark habitats, including the coral reefs where sharks help maintain the precarious ecosystem and the dark deep sea where bioluminescent sharks hang out. The screens make each of the habitats feel surprisingly soothing.

Sharks is separated into themes, highlighting everything from their anatomy to prehistoric predecessors, the roles of predator and prey, their perception around the world, super senses, and vulnerability.

The fascinating facts I learned included the fact that there are 540 species of shark, their teeth replace every two weeks, and they predate the dinosaurs, dating back 450 million years or so. Sharks have constantly evolved and have survived the numerous mass extinctions dinosaurs did not. My son probably could have told me this if I listened to him more closely at times.

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View of the Sharks exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History
Predator or prey? Sharks are usually the latter when it comes to human encounters. 

The central focus of the exhibition is to inform visitors that many of the stories and fears surrounding these awe-inspiring—and often intimidating creatures—are unfounded. Very rarely do sharks attack people, and when they do it is usually a case of mistaken identity. A wetsuited surfer looks uncannily like a seal from below.

In contrast, consider that up to 273 million sharks are killed by humans every year, compared to 10 people killed each year by sharks. It took me a minute to realize 10 is the number worldwide, not just in the United States—lower than I ever imagined.

One of the interactive displays shows the number of people killed by sharks each year compared to those who are killed by other animals and bugs. The differences are huge. It brings home how disproportionate our fear is. Jaws has a lot to answer for!

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Parade of Sharks shows diversity of the species.
The diversity of the shark population is on mesmerizing display at AMNH.

Sharks touches on other things that are impacting shark populations and I walked out feeling more knowledgeable, more aware of the damage humans are doing to shark populations and ways in which this can be reduced. I feel less nervous about the prospect of sharks as I also now know how to avoid a shark bite! 

I can't wait to return with my 10 and 8 year olds who will love it. Sharks is now open. Timed-entry tickets are required and not included in the general admission price. Tip: Pick an earlier or later time slot to make sure you can enjoy the interactive displays without too many people around.

Photos by the author

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