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Senzo Uchida, left, director of the Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park in Motobu, and Katherine Muzik, a marine biologist from Puerto RIco, display a poster announcing an international symposium on sharks Sept. 28 and Sept. 29. The symposium will feature a free lecture and question-and-answer session for the public.
Senzo Uchida, left, director of the Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park in Motobu, and Katherine Muzik, a marine biologist from Puerto RIco, display a poster announcing an international symposium on sharks Sept. 28 and Sept. 29. The symposium will feature a free lecture and question-and-answer session for the public. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

MOTOBU, Okinawa — Scared half to death of sharks after watching the movie “Jaws” six or seven times?

You shouldn’t be.

Sharks probably are among the most misunderstood creatures in the sea, says Senzo Uchida, director of the Churaumi Aquarium at Ocean Expo Park. And even though two kinds of sharks in Okinawa waters are known to attack humans, there’s little need to worry.

If you’re careful.

To educate the public about sharks, the aquarium is sponsoring a two-day shark symposium Tuesday and Wednesday at the Bankoku Shinryokan, a scenic conference facility in Nago, site of the 2000 G-8 summit.

The symposium costs 1,500 yen (about $13.50) for both days, starts at 9 a.m. each day and is to feature marine biologists and researchers from around the world, including the United States, Australia, France, Taiwan and Japan. A simultaneous translation in English is to be offered.

A free lecture on Wednesday starts at 2 p.m. and will include a question-and-answer session between the lecturers and audience. Uchida is urging Americans to come.

“There are more than 400 different kinds of sharks,” he said during a recent break from making preparations for the event. “But there are only three species of man-eating sharks.

“The species that attack humans are the bull shark, the tiger shark and the great white shark, which was the model for the movie ‘Jaws,’” he said. “Only bull sharks and tiger sharks live in Okinawan waters.”

“If you encounter a man-eating species, of course you need to immediately retreat, but there is no need for you to panic at the sight of every shark,” Uchida said with a smile. “The whale shark, the largest of the shark species, for instance, has no teeth.”

The symposium is being held to commemorate the second anniversary of the Churaumi Aquarium, one of the world’s largest aquariums.

“We want as many people as possible to come to the event and learn about this fascinating animal,” Uchida said. “There are two types of shark attacks: One is the counterattack against human provocation and the other is the ‘test bite’ mistaking a human as food.

“Local fishermen know very well which ones are or are not dangerous,” he said. And, fortunately for casual bathers, the coral reefs that surround Okinawa are usually enough to keep the sharks at bay.

But if they do find their way toward shore, the “Jaws” image of sharks being attracted by the happy splashing of humans at play is not far from the truth, Uchida said.

“Another interesting habit of sharks is that they take a splashing sound as a sign that food’s nearby,” Uchida said. “To have adequate knowledge of this sea creature is extremely important.”

“This is a great opportunity to learn about this powerful and graceful animal,” said Katherine Muzik, a marine biologist from Puerto Rico, one of the symposium’s featured lecturers.

Muzik said her talk also will touch upon one of the ocean’s most graceful swimmers, manta rays.

“Unlike sharks, rays are not frightening,” Muzik said. “Their swimming is graceful and acrobatic.”

—Visit the aquarium’s Web site at www.simul-conf.com/chura/index.html for more information and to register for the symposium.

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