While Wings in the Water was always popular, it didn’t replicate the natural environment nearly as closely as the Blacktip Reef exhibit does, Cover said. And that preference for giving visitors an experience as close to the real world as possible is becoming increasingly popular at zoos and aquariums, said Debborah Luke, vice president of conservation and science for the Silver Spring-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The idea, she said, is to promote better stewardship of animals and their habitats.

“That way, viewers and guests can experience a little bit of what it’s like out in the wild,” she said. “That’s important for education and conservation messaging, on how to help these animals in the wild.”

Racanelli said the Blacktail Reef exhibit is the first of several new components planned for the aquarium; the next, he said, should be ready in early 2015. Although officials are still working on specifics, he said, it will focus on aquatic life in the Maryland region — that is, in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed or on the Atlantic shores.

The blacktip reef sharks, which can grow to six feet and have been known to live from 25-30 years, have been in Baltimore, at the aquarium’s animal care center in Fells Point, for up to 18 months. Captured in the wild in Australia, under a government-monitored program, the fish have had to become acclimated to life in their new home. That includes getting used to the presence of divers, flashing lights (all those visitors with their cameras) and food that’s provided for them at feeding stations within the exhibit (as opposed to having to hunt for prey).

About that hunting: Cover said the sharks may not totally abandon their wild ways and just might be tempted to go after one of their tank mates occasionally, But not to worry, he said.

“The fish are going to do what they do in the wild,” he said. “They’ll hide.”


If you go

The “official” opening of the National Aquarium’s Blacktip Reef exhibit is tentatively set for Aug. 8. The exhibit is already open to the public, however, and by the end of the day Tuesday, all the blacktip reef sharks and some 50 of the 70 other species of fish planned for the exhibit will already be calling it home.

When: July-August hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday (closes 2 p.m. Aug. 5), 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 8:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: National Aquarium, 501 E. Pratt St.

How much: $21.95-$34.95

Information: 410-576-3800 or aqua.org