New attraction brings visitors face-to-face with live sharks

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Want to come face-to-face with a live shark? How about petting a sting ray? A new center at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport will give visitors a whole new sea life experience.

Guests will be able to enjoy an interactive experience with all sorts of wildlife, on land and on water. The main attraction will be a 4,000 gallon tank.

"Kids are going to be able to stand and feed the sharks and the sting rays and pet them," said Dr. Moby Solangi, IMMS Director.

The large tank is flanked by two smaller touch pools.

"We'll have the horseshoe crabs and the sea stars," said Solangi.

And along the walls will be 12 aquariums. The 200-gallon tanks will house all sorts of tropical fish and south Mississippi marine life. The exhibits, along with two classrooms, are part of the new Discovery Center at the Institute for Marine Mammals Studies in Gulfport.

"I think it'll be just an exceptional experience," said Solangi. "Very few people get to touch and feel the wildlife that they see in movies and books. So we really want them to be immersed and get the interactive experience with the wildlife."

And for those who are a bit more adventurous and want to see sea life and wildlife in their natural habitat, you can climb aboard a pontoon boat for a two-hour tour.

"We can go to Biloxi Back Bay, we can go out into the Mississippi Sound, and we can give tours on the different habitats. There are five different habitats on Deer Island," said Dr. Sharon Walker, IMMS Education & Outreach Director. "They'll enjoy their habitat interpretations and just being on the water. And let them enjoy nature."

The Scenic Bayou Tours will set sail in March. That's the same time the new Discovery Center opens, giving visitors a deeper appreciation of the creatures that surround us.

"Not everybody has a chance to get to the islands and be on the beaches, and what we're doing is bringing nature close and up front," said Solangi. "I think we are very, very excited."

And more creatures will be joining the IMMS family in the coming months. Between two to four sea lions are expected to arrive at the center by the end of the year.

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