Shark Week at the Pier provides learning opportunities for all
BILOXI, Miss. -- Each summer, thousands of people flock to the Gulf Coast to soak up some sun and enjoy the water. With extensive beaches and abundant wildlife, there is no shortage of things to see and do here.
If you’re excited about the ocean, you won’t want to miss the park’s annual Shark Week at the Pier.
A favorite attraction for locals and tourists alike is coastal Alabama’s Gulf State Park. This park boasts two miles of sandy beach, an impressive 496-site campground, and more than 6,000 acres of marshes, woodlands and lakes.
While at the park, visitors can explore the numerous trails or venture over to the nature center or the Gulf State Park Education Pier to learn more about the local environment. The pier is an excellent location to fish and sightsee. Placards along the pier educate visitors about local species and safe fish handling.
Alongside other regional organizations, the team at Mississippi State University’s Marine Fisheries Ecology (MFE) Program hosts a booth at Shark Week and provides new opportunities to learn about and explore the world of sharks and rays each day. This event, held every July, features demonstrations, dissections, arts and crafts, and educational sessions for all ages.
The daily themes for Shark Week 2022 were Shark and Ray Species Identification, Biology of Sharks and Rays, How Sharks Hunt, Shark Research, and Sharks and Humans. The MFE team supplemented each session with preserved specimens and a display of some of the tools used in shark research.
Visitors could come up close to watch the educational sessions, or they could view from a distance on the screen overhead. A few brave children gathered around the table to watch the daily shark and ray dissections and learn about the anatomy of these fascinating creatures.
Both kids and adults enjoyed interacting with real preserved specimens, including a flying fish, a whole juvenile mako shark, and jaws from more than 15 different shark and ray species. Visitors went home with giveaway items, educational flyers and lasting memories.
One parent commented, “We have been vacationing here at Gulf State Park, and coming to Shark Week every day has made our kids so excited, and they both want to be marine biologists when they grow up.”
This year’s event — the sixth annual Shark Week at the Pier — gathered the largest crowd yet, with more than 2,400 visitors coming to the pier for Shark Week alone. For the Extension professionals of the MFE Program, it was a valuable opportunity to connect with the community and share ongoing and exciting research about the Gulf of Mexico’s sharks and rays.
At only $3 per ticket, Shark Week is the perfect opportunity for families to spend time learning about the world of sharks. Those interested in hearing more about anything from local fisheries research to careers in marine biology are welcome to talk to the MFE team and ask questions throughout the week.
Whether you love sharks, fear sharks or want to learn more, Gulf State Park’s Shark Week is sure to leave you with newfound knowledge and respect for the ocean’s top predators. Mark your calendars for next year’s Shark Week at the Pier, scheduled for July 10-14, 2023.
Editor’s Note: Extension Outdoors is a column authored by several different experts in the Mississippi State University Extension Service.