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Who’s the Fiercest Predator?

Find out at Calvert Marine ­Museum’s Sharkfest

Millions of years ago, long before there was a Chesapeake Bay, sharks thrived in the saltwater marine environment of the flooded river we now call Susquehanna. Big sharks that could have swallowed a man whole, had any men or women been around to be eaten.
    The megalodon, ancestor of the great white shark, was the apex marine predator of those waters. Rivaling today’s blue whale, the megalodon grew up to 50 feet long.
    He’s long gone, but his kin are still with us.
    Perhaps a dozen kinds of sharks visit the Chesapeake. Atlantic mako sharks, sand and sandbar or brown sharks, hammerheads, bonnetheads, dusky, sharp-nosed, smooth and spiny dogfish sharks, chain catsharks. And bull sharks.
    “Bull sharks are one of the notorious sharks we need to watch out for,” says David Moyer, curator of estuarine biology at Calvert Marine Museum. “They’re the inspiration species for Jaws. They come all the way up into fresh water. That story came out of a whole lot of real-life shark attacks over a short period of time in fresh waters in New Jersey.”
    At Calvert Marine Museum’s Sharkfest on Saturday, July 9, you’ll learn all that and more.
    “The annual festival is the museum’s way to teach people that sharks are not the enemy and without them the entire ocean ecosystem would collapse,” explains museum educator Mindy Quinn. “Humans kill sharks at the rate of about 11,415 per hour.”
    At Sharkfest, you’ll meet the musuem’s resident chain dogfish, all about a foot long. Their better name, says their keeper Moyer, “is chain catsharks, for their eyes have slit-like pupils like a cat’s.”
    That adaptation may be because they live in deep waters without natural sunlight. They also luminesce, perhaps for the same reason, or perhaps to attract food or their own kind or to discourage predation.
    Also on hand this year is a horn shark from the north Pacific, a shark that creeps along the bottom rather than swims.
    You’ll see shark cousins, clearnose skates and cownose rays. Like the catsharks, rays are regular visitors throughout the Chesapeake. Skates, which prefer the saltier water of the lower Bay, are a specialty of the museum, which breeds the flat fish to share with other museums and aquariums.
     Also visiting are another shark cousin and Chesapeake Bay native, the Atlantic sturgeon, an endangered species being bred by GenOn Aquaculture in Virginia for reintroduction to the upper Potomac River.
    The scariest shark at Sharkfest is the full-sized megalodon, a 50-foot-long behemoth model created at the museum 15 years ago to put the past in chilling perspective.
    The biggest draw is the chance to touch the live sharks.
    The most fun is sliding down the jaws of a giant inflated shark.

SharkFest: Sat., July 9, 10am-5pm, Calvert Marine Museum, Solomons, $9; www.calvertmarinemuseum.com.