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Just like everything else in shiny Las Vegas, the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is bigger and better than the rest. While brilliantly designed hotels, restaurants with innovative cuisine and card tables galore captivate visitors by night, daytime is perfect for a little undersea exploration.
Over a million gallons of water fill the tanks that are home to over 2,000 sea creatures—creatures that are housed in three different themed exhibits. Whether you’re wandering the Jungle, touring the sunken Temple or surveying the Shipwreck, there are plenty of exotic sharks, fish and reptiles to keep visitors entertained.
There Are Plenty of Species to Spy On
The Jungle section of the aquarium is filled with most of the attraction’s reptiles and ground-dwelling species. Spot species like the Komodo dragon, the green tree monitor, the Burmese python and the unique golden crocodile. The Jungle is also home to the fascinating South American piranhas.
The transition to the Temple takes visitors through the Reef Tunnel. Here, colorful fish and small sharks zip past the glass overhead. Once you’ve passed through, you’ll know you’ve arrived; there are stone walls and tropical vines all around.
Inside the Temple area, the main attraction is the massive saltwater touch pool that fills the room. Sitting on the ledge, it’s easy to dip your fingers into the cool water, where you’ll find various types of rays, small crabs and sometimes baby sharks. Other tanks in this area are home to plenty of jellyfish, a giant Pacific octopus and the poisonous lionfish.
The final exhibit, the Shipwreck, places visitors in the sunken cargo hold of a mock pirate ship—one surrounded by a 1.3-million gallon tank. With glass on all sides (yes, even below you), this section provides the perfect view of the sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and tropical fish that occupy the water here. Another tunnel with the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay leads to the exit, allowing sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, grey reef sharks and more to escort you out.
…Many of Which Need Protection
Signs placed throughout the aquarium offer readers information on the harmful effects of introducing foreign species and guests are offered a Passport Guide that includes a pocket guide for selecting sustainable seafood, but they take a much more active role in conservation efforts as well. Their “Adopt a Cove” program at Lake Mead gives staff a chance to give back by helping clean up the lakeshore and the water a few times per year. Additionally, the aquarium helps to increase the Devil’s Hole Pupfish population with a breeding program for the endangered species.
Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay also serves as a refuge for sea life, home to endangered and threatened species like the sawfish, cownose rays and green sea turtles.
Rest assured that the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay is doing its part with conservation, education and recreation because it is the only place in Nevada that has been accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). This helps to ensure that the animals are well taken care of and that the aquarium is helping to educate and engage.
You Can Get Up Close with the Animals
The unique collection of animals within the aquarium makes it easy to learn about these creatures up close. Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay offers a variety of interactive programs that give visitors a chance to get their hands wet.
The most basic program is based out of the touch pool. While anyone is able to feel the rays and crabs within, those who sign up for the aquarium’s Stingray Feed will get to be a part of their daily care. Occurring before the aquarium opens in the morning, the program starts with a VIP tour of the Shark Reef before ending up at the touch pool, where guests will offer fish, shrimp and krill to the animals in the pool.
For an even more unique experience, visitors can partake in the Turtle Feed. Similar to the Stingray Feed, visitors will get up close and personal with the aquarium’s animals, offering a chance to feed the 300-pound sea turtles that reside within. There is potential for interaction with other animals in the area as well.
While the Shark Feed isn’t quite as interactive as the aquarium’s stingray and sea turtle counterparts, it is definitely the most informative of the programs. The two-hour program will bring guests alongside staff members as they feed the reef’s sharks. As you watch these mighty creatures eat, they will discuss what food is used, how it’s prepared, how they’re fed and a little bit about shark behavior.
A More Dangerous Adventure
Feeds can be interesting and informative, but adventure seekers will probably opt to dive with the sharks instead. Get in the water and swim alongside the sharks themselves—a wider variety and larger concentration than you’re likely to find in the wild. Included are the dive experience and a complimentary video of your dive as well as a guided tour of the entire aquarium and a dive orientation with a staff guide. This adrenaline-inducing experience is available for hotel guests with current certifications from a widely recognized agency.
Before and After: The Fine Print
General admission can vary depending on the time of the year you visit. However, Nevada residents will always receive a discount. In addition to general admission, guests can choose to purchase an annual pass, which would allow them to visit as much as they’d like throughout the year. The pass also includes discounts in the gift shop and access to the typically hotel guest-only shark dive experience.
When you’re done at the aquarium, explore the hotel that houses it. With its own beach, an aquatic playground, a wave pool and cabanas, there is plenty of fun in the sun to be had year-round. Guests can also check out live concerts at the House of Blues or watch Michael Jackson One, the resort’s Cirque de Soleil show.