Shark Reef Aquarium showcases celebrities of the deep
It’s a little-known fact that many of the residents of Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay have nicknames, so when staff members talk to the animals they don’t have to resort to “Hey, alligator!” or “How are you doing, catfish?” Even though as a guest you don’t quite achieve the same level of bonding with the assortment land and sea creatures that staff does, you can still bestow them with names that say something about their personalities and help keep them in your memories. Plus, it’s a great way to keep children’s attention.
Take the four Johnston’s crocodiles that were hanging out in the Ancient Sunken Temple area on a recent Friday afternoon. They’re cute (in a reptilian way), casually confident and, except for one that seems the shyest, don’t seem to shun the spotlight. They may not be able to lip-read though the protective glass that denies the curious from closely inspecting the extreme predators’ dagger-like teeth (70 each!), but John, Paul, George and Ringo can see when they’re being talked about. Weighing in at up to 150 pounds and reaching lengths of 9 feet, they look harmless enough.
Then again, so did the dilophosauruses in Jurassic Park that made a late-night snack out of a dinosaur embryo thief. The Fab Four’s neighbor, a Komodo Dragon hanging out in an environment all to itself, looks as ferocious as its reputation. It has occasional social anxiety and may face away from crowds, but there’s no mistaking the telltale tail of Earth’s largest lizard. At up to 10 feet long and 300 pounds, you don’t want to get caught in its environment unless you can run faster than its usual prey of deer, goats, wild boar and smaller Komodo dragons. We’ll call this one Tom.
The only reptile that doesn’t seem like it would be intimidated by Tom is a deadly python that provides an alliterative opportunity that can’t be passed up. He shall be Pete. A green tree monitor observes the steady stream of homo sapiens parading by from a perch high in its tree home. J. Edgar seems fitting, somehow. It’s hard to tell one deadly piranha from another in their tank, but they don’t seem to object to each being called Clyde. There’s no point in trying to identify individuals among the school of luminescent jellyfish that undulate in a cylindrical tank adjacent to a shipwreck-themed area. The jellyfish will all be replaced eventually, so collectively they can be referred to as Menudo.
Other species are numerous in quantity, but can be followed easily for minutes at a time. You can find your own Harry Hammerhead or Gilda Guitarfish cruising through the larger underwater environments, and get close to Little Steven Stingray or Buster the Horseshoe Crab in the touch pool. The only problem with naming the stars of Shark Reef is saying goodbye, but reunions are always possible on a return trip. They probably have their own names for us as well, even though we may pretty much all look alike to them.
Mandalay Bay, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., last entry one hour prior to close, $20, $14 children 4-12; Polar Journey 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., last entry one-half hour prior to close $15 for exhibition only, $5 with Shark Reef Aquarium ticket. 702.632.4555