Accreditation is high-water mark for Shark Reef

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LAS VEGAS -- Three years after its opening, Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is celebrating its accreditation by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA).

That's about the biggest industry thumbs-up that the attraction can get, and it is the first Nevada institution -- and just the 212th worldwide -- to get the AZA's stamp of approval.

"The importance of accreditation is that it gives the aquarium [a sense of] stability as the centerpoint of the community," said Brian Robison, the Shark Reef's director. "It also gives the aquarium the credibility to obtain endangered species."

Applying for the designation, which is valid for five years, was "a monumental task," Robison said. "It took the efforts of everyone from the ticket clerk to the director to make it happen."

Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas is the first inland aquarium in the world to successfully acquire and display a great hammerhead shark. The attraction features 14 exhibits devoted to dangerous aquatic predators, including the shark display in which visitors get a 360-degree view, through an acrylic tunnel, of the sharks in their 1.3 million-gallon tank.

The newest occupant of the saltwater tank, a six-foot female great hammerhead shark, took up residence in November, marking the first time that a U.S. aquarium has successfully transported and displayed the species in captivity.

Only one other aquarium in the world can claim the same accomplishment -- Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas, which, unlike Shark Reef, is an open-ocean aquarium.

Although adult great hammerheads weigh more than 500 pounds on average and can grow to be 18 feet long, the animal living in Shark Reef is a juvenile, currently weighing less than 60 pounds and measuring approximately six feet in length.

Her tankmates include stingrays, sea turtles, green sawfish, barracudas and five different species of sharks -- sandtiger sharks, sandbar sharks, nurse sharks, white-tip reef sharks and a lemon shark.

Shark Reef is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Admission is $14.95 for adults and $9.95 for children ages 5 to 12; children 4 and younger are admitted free.

Advance tickets can be obtained by calling (702) 632-7580; for general information about the attraction, call (702) 632-4555.

To contact reporter Amy Baratta, send e-mail to [email protected] .

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