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By Nancy Vander Velde

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (March/April 2000 – Pacific Magazine)---Have you ever wanted to take a walk with a shark? Really?

Well, now, on Guam, we can -- as well as try to figure out a triggerfish and gawk back at a grouper. It’s happening at the recently opened UnderWater World on Tumon Bay, where you not only can walk with sharks, but also get a spectacular view of the many aspects of the world beneath the sea.

This attraction is the newest of the UnderWater Worlds that operate in various locations around the United States. Guam’s cost about $20 million to build and is part of Paradise Plaza, right next door to the Outrigger’s luxurious new hotel. The attraction had its grand opening last July, along with the hotel and the whole Plaza.

A 2-1/2-inch-thick plexiglass walkthrough tunnel winds its way for more than 300 feet through an 800,000-gallon aquarium that is teeming with fish. Although the fish come in all sizes, shapes and colors, the biggest ones (both in size and popularity) are the sharks.

There are gray reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, whitetip reef sharks and others all nonchalantly cruising about, giving visitors magnificently close-up views of the normally fear-inspiring creatures.

UnderWater World is open daily from 10 to 10, and 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half should be allowed to really enjoy the place. But, if at all possible, try to schedule your visit to coincide with feeding time (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 1:30 p.m.)

Pieces of mackerel are held on a pole near the surface of the water. Before too long, one of the sleek sharks will detect the presence of an easy meal and "attack." It’s quite an experience to watch from below as a gray reef shark tears flesh away, just inches from your face! No one should ever dare to be that close to such a scene in the wild.

Then, after the feeding goes on for a while, the normally nocturnal nurse sharks and the lethargic leopard sharks will shake the sand and sleep from their eyes and join in the feast.

There are so many more fish at UnderWater World than just the perpetually people-pleasing sharks. When it first opened, it had about 100 different species of fish, with thousands swimming about: Moorish idols, triggerfish, wrasses, trevally, butterflyfish, snappers, angelfish, emperors, fusiliers, lizardfish, damselfish. These smaller fish are fed mainly gelatin, romaine lettuce and mussels. But, at shark-feeding time, they are right in there trying to get whatever scraps they can.

Several giant groupers also mosey about the tank, coming in a close second as far as popularity with visitors. Their cavernous mouths easily swallow any bait at feeding time; and, yes, occasionally a few other smaller fish as well that may have ventured too close.

People who have been snorkeling or scuba diving around Guam will recognize many of the fish in UnderWater World, as they were primarily collected locally.

But, there is a big advantage to the "tube experience" of UnderWater World, even for divers. When diving, and you have either a snorkel or a regulator in your mouth, it’s hard to clearly ask a companion, "what’s that fish?" or, "did you see what that one did?"

However, at this place, if the information on personal recorders, provided for each visitor, doesn’t sufficiently explain what’s being seen, there are guest-service representatives who are more than willing to help.

The reasons that the guides chose to work for UnderWater World are almost as varied and interesting as the fish.

Delbert was already an avid aquarium hobbyist, so it was just natural that he would want to spend his days around a gigantic fish tank. Other guides actually had a fear of the water that they wanted to overcome. This strategy must be working because they now express an interest in learning to scuba dive and see the "wild" underwater world around Guam.

In contrast, Tony said he felt UnderWater World was "the most unique exhibit on Guam" and wanted to be part of it. But, Marie probably summed up everyone’s feelings best with her comment: "I'd rather be a fish."

And, after you’ve experienced UnderWater World -- walked eyeball-to-eyeball with a few sharks, gawked at the groupers and even petted the cute little shark in the petting pool -- you probably will feel that you too, at least for a while, would rather be a fish!

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