Colorful shark art on the walls, shark-themed activities on Kids Free Fridays, and a lecture series featuring prominent shark experts highlight the summer activities at the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
The Environmental Learning Center is bursting with 26 whimsical images of living and extinct sharks from A to Z featured in the “Sharkabet” traveling exhibit by Alaska-based artist Ray Troll, who wrote a children’s book of the same name. From angel sharks that fly through the water with fins that look like tiny angel wings, to zebra sharks that start out with stripes that change into spots as they grow older, the artwork presents this predator of the sea in an approachable manner for all ages to understand.
The shark theme carries through to the stories, crafts and activities presented on Kids Free Fridays through Aug. 19. Children 12 and younger are admitted free with a paying adult or member. Special programs take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Russell’s Clambakes and Cookouts is on-site from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. selling lunch. The learning center includes aquariums, interactive exhibits, a children’s book nook, walking trails and more.
Adults can learn about sharks during an evening lecture series. Dr. Jose Castro from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Mote Marine Laboratory presents “The Perfect Predator” on July 20. Scuba pioneer Stan Waterman presents “In The World of Sharks” about his revolutionary out-of-cage shark dive on July 27. And, Reserve fisheries biologist Pat O’Donnell presents “Shark Nurseries in the Ten Thousand Islands Estuaries” on Aug. 17. Lectures take place from 5-7 p.m. and are $10 each ($5 for members), which includes light refreshments.
The Rookery Bay Environmental Learning Center is located at 300 Tower Road in Naples and is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday for summer hours. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-12 and free for members. A separate fee applies for some of the programs mentioned here. Call 417-6310 or visit rookerybay.org or facebook.com/friendsofrookerybay.
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Local shark facts:
• While dozens of shark species occupy nearshore waters in Southwest Florida, five species use estuaries like Rookery Bay as a nursery. These include bull, bonnethead, lemon, nurse and blacktip.
• Sharks primarily eat other fish but, depending on the species, can take crustaceans, mollusks, rays, sea birds, sea turtles and manatees.
• Bull sharks can tolerate lower salinity levels than most sharks and typically thrive in estuarine environments.