Bay Area ‘shark guy’ hopes to turn fear into fascination

Just mentioning sharks brings to mind the heart-thumping theme to the movie "Jaws" for some people and even swimming at the beach during "Shark Week" can be stressful, but the Florida Aquarium’s ‘Shark Guy’ hopes to turn fear of the fish into fascination.

When many people hear the word shark, they often hear it with an exclamation point at the end. 

"I emphasize those exclamation points because I get genuinely excited about them, but not in that movie monster way, just in the variety and diversity and types of sharks that we find not just in the Gulf, but all over the world of every shape and size," shared Eric Hovland, the Florida Aquarium’s ‘Shark Guy’.

Hovland says it can often be tricky to identify sharks out in the wild as they move quickly through the water. However, he said they do have unique features and color patterns such as stripes and added that scientists will often look at the position of the dorsal fin related to the eyes and gills.

READ: Florida teen attacked by shark takes first steps after having leg amputated, family says

"A good tip I like to tell people when they ask if there are sharks in the water, there’s any easy test for that – dip your finger into the water and taste it. If it’s salty, there are sharks in it. So, you’re sharing their home."

Shark at Florida Aquarium

He recommends swimming during daylight hours. He advises people to swim with other people and avoid being alone in the water at dusk or dawn because that’s when sharks are looking for food. 

"I always say the most dangerous part about going to the beach is the ride there. Buckle up and don’t text. Once you get there, be respectful of the ocean and if you see a shark and you’re not comfortable with it- leave the water. If you see a shark, that’s a good sign because that’s their home."

READ: Sharks swimming closer to crowded beaches than previously thought, study says

Hovland says sharks are not necessarily aggressive and ads there are usually less than ten shark-related deaths each year. 

Shark at Florida Aquarium

"Sharks really need our help and that’s where ‘Shark Week’ and the importance of sharks in our environment really come into the light. There is shark diversity - hundreds of different species of sharks, and hundreds of species of rays, adding up to well over 1,000 species of diverse sharks around the world. These are reasons to get excited about sharks and explore so we can truly turn that fear into a fascination of sharks." 

LINK: Learn more about the Florida Aquarium and how to adopt a shark here

A previous version of this story misstated Hovland "recommends not swimming during daylight hours." The text has been corrected.