The ocean is probably the last thing people think of when they visit the dry desert of Las Vegas, but the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is changing that.
Twinkling lights will line Shark Reef Aquarium’s jungle Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14 and 20 - 24, leading spirited guests to Santa himself where he will be ready to spread holiday cheer and sweet treats with his pal, Santa Jaws. With each paid admission during these select dates, children 12 and under will receive complimentary candy and a photograph with Santa as they share with him all of their last-minute holiday wishes. Before jumping on his sleigh, Santa will plunge into the Shipwreck waters to bid everyone farewell alongside his underwater friends.
Housing more than 1,200 species of marine life including sharks, exotic fresh and saltwater fish, a 300-pound sea turtle and much more, Shark Reef offers the aquatic experience of a lifetime.
The only accredited aquarium by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association in Nevada, Shark Reef is popular with tourists and marine experts alike. Only 10 percent of aquariums are accredited nationwide, making it one of the most prestigious facilities of its kind, along with the San Diego Zoo and Sea World.
Shark Reef is reminiscent of an ancient temple slowly sinking into the ocean. The tunnel, which houses five species of sharks and the aquarium's largest animals, is designed to look like a sunken shipwreck and contains 1.3 million gallons of water. Here, visitors can witness a scuba diver's view of these mesmerizing creatures, including nurse sharks and tiger-striped sharks measuring up to nine feet long, and two tiger sharks that measure more than six feet in length.
Since the sharks at the Shark Reef are fed on a daily basis, the surrounding animals are in no danger. Sharks are fed three times a week, which is more than they would probably eat in the wild. In fact, the half-inch Blue Damsel, the tiniest fish at the Shark Reef, shares the same tank with these gigantic creatures.
At more than 105,000 square feet, Shark Reef is home to more than 1,200 different species of sharks, tropical and fresh water fish, reptiles, marine invertebrates and rays totaling about 2,000 animals among 2 million gallons of seawater.
Sharks: Blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks, bonnethead sharks, nurse sharks, sand tiger sharks, sandbar sharks, zebra sharks, white spotted bamboo sharks, port jackson sharks and lemon sharks
Tropical and Fresh Water Fish: Several species of angelfish, puffer fish and tang fish, and venomous tropical fish including lionfish and foxface
Reptiles: Golden crocodiles, green sea turtles and ravenous water monitors
Eels, Marine Invertebrates, Rays: Moray eels, southern stingrays and hundreds of moon jellyfish
When divers swim in to clean these tanks, they wear a stainless steel mesh, similar to what knights wore long ago. The metal helps keep the animals away so the humans don't look like food.
In addition to the shark tunnel, guests can experience exhibits featuring crocodiles, freshwater fish, piranhas and much more.
Since many of us aren't planning to pet a piranha anytime soon, visitors can enjoy getting a "hands-on" experience with various stingrays, eels and crabs at the touch pool.
Also at the Shark Reef is an eight-foot-long Komodo dragon, the largest species in the lizard family. Classified as an endangered species, there are only 3,000 to 5,000 that live in the wild. At Shark Reef, this particular Komodo lives within an environment similar to its habitat, complete with sand, boulders and a pool.
The Shark Reef is also home to colorful catfish, saw fish, beautifully patterned black-and-white potato cod fish and spiky mine urchins. The mine urchins do not move much, but visitors may catch a group of them munching on a "cookie," a nutritious wafer created specifically for their diet.
Visitors can also see a live female bowmouth guitarfish. Better known as a shark ray, this animal is considered a vulnerable species and very little is known about it. The 5-foot, 90-pound shark ray is one of only a dozen featured in aquariums throughout the United States.
For those who want an in-depth, personal enrichment about the animals, audio wands are available in Spanish, English and Japanese. In addition, Shark Reef's naturalists are available to answer any questions visitors may have.
Guests can also take part of the sea with them long after they leave Shark Reef. Located at the end of the exhibit, Shark Reef's gift shop features an assortment of figurines, picture frames, trinkets and souvenir photos for those who took one right before the tour.