Easily the most impressive feature of the Golden Nugget is the giant shark tank located in the pool complex. It was far too cold to swim when we visited, but we were able to take a guided behind the scenes tour to get a closer look at the sharks.
Here is a picture of the tank from the swimmer's perspective. A water slide goes through the tank and the tank can also be swum around, with the glass of the tank extending under the water in the pool. You can actually swim alongside a shark from the safety of the barrier.
The hour long tour was led by one of the marine biologists on staff and we purchased the tickets for $30.00 in advance. The tour group was small, only about ten people, which I think was probably at capacity, since the areas that we visited included small rooms. If you are interested, I highly recommend book in advance.
A bulk of the tour was spent on top of the aquarium, peering down into the water. In addition to a bunch of fish, which the sharks do not usually eat, the tank holds five species of sharks; Black-tipped Sharks, Tiger Sharks, Zebra Sharks, Nurse Sharks and Sandbar Sharks.
We learned that the biologists have to climb into the tank daily for cleaning and maintenance. When they're in the water, they wear a protective chainmail suit over their normal wetsuit. The sharks rarely attack, but it's a precautionary measure. They also have a second person as a lookout while they're working, who can intervene if there is a problem.
So what do the sharks eat? We went to the food prep room to see lots of refrigerated fish and this brown gunk. The brown junk is a fish "cookie", a nutritional mixture. We learned that the sharks can be very picky eaters, preferring certain species of fish and spitting out food that they don't like.
Most interesting is how they feed the sharks. The sharks are trained to come to targets in the water. Yup, you heard me, they train them. I wouldn't have believed this, if I hadn't heard it before from my friend who is a veterinarian. I'm still blown away by training sharks.
It isn't always easy. They have one shark who is aggressive at meal times and needs to be separated. It took them over a year to target train him to enter a smaller pool for his meals. The smaller pool can be sealed off and houses the lifts/cranes for emergency transportation out of the water. This is a place where divers can come in an emergency or where they can quarantine animals.
The last part of the tour took us to their offices, where we saw some specimens. This is a dried shark egg sack.
Me, holding a cast of a shark jaw. Yikes!
And a cast of a Megaladon tooth.
We were given a shark's tooth as a souvenir. The tooth was recovered from the bottom of the tank. No worries, their teeth grow back.
Overall, this was a good tour. It's definitely interesting to see the tank from a different perspective and our guide was very knowledgable. I'm not sure that it was good value for money at thirty a ticket, but I'm still glad that I did it. I think fifteen-twenty would have been a more reasonable price point. If you're an animal lover though, add this to your Las Vegas to-do list!