NORWALK, Conn. — Santa Claus may be acclimated to the icy climate of his home at the North Pole. But at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, he swims with the fishes — and the sharks.
Six times a week, Santa joins the show at the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit as a deep-sea diver — taking the plunge into the aquarium’s 110,000-gallon shark tank.
“Santa is coming,” were the excited words of about 40 children who, along with their parents, gathered in the dim room by the tank recently.
As part of the exhibit — which is led by the aquarium's volunteer shark divers — Santa dives in and greets the audience. Sharks, as well as a variety of fish, swim all around him.
According to senior dive leader Lisa Jarosik, the purpose of the exhibit is to dispel the myth of the dangers of sharks, as well as to educate, entertain and inspire people to become divers themselves.
During the program, Jarosik, as well as other shark divers, share shark trivia such as what sharks eat, how long they live and how strong their bite is.
While Jarosik was speaking, there was a sudden commotion on the right side of the tank and the children — as well as many of the adults — gasped.
It was none other than Santa himself, wearing red-and-white scuba gear. After greeting Santa, everyone lined up to take a photo with him — on the other side of the tank.
Once the presentation was over, a very wet Santa — whose true identity is David Schafran — spoke more about the sharks.
“I love it that I can get to come and swim with the sharks,” Schafran said, adding that divers get to keep shark teeth, which they find in the tank.
Contrary to what many believe, sharks are the hunted much more than the hunter, he said.
"Sharks are not the horrible beasts Hollywood makes them out to be," Schafran said. "Whenever there is any type of shark attack, it gets picked up everywhere in the media. Yet, there are only about seven to eight shark fatalities worldwide per year of humans, while humans kill about 70 million sharks annually."
One reason sharks are killed is for soup — in parts of Asia, shark fin soup is a delicacy, he said.
“The fins are cut off and the sharks are put back into the water to die, since they can’t swim without their fins.”
They're also killed for sport. “People catch sharks while fishing and they are already dead at that point,” Schafran said.
Sharks are apex predators, he said, the predator at the top of a food chain upon which no other creatures prey.
“As apex predators, sharks are central to our food supply and the health of the oceans," Schafran said. "So, they help keep the fish population healthy and the balance of our oceans."
The Santa shark dives are part of the Maritime Aquarium’s year-round dive program. Santa Claus participates in each dive during December. Cameras are recommended for those who want to take a photo with Santa during the program.
The exhibit, featuring the shark-diving Santa, takes place Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 12:15 and 2:15 p.m. through Dec. 22. All Santa Claus appearances are free with aquarium admission, which is $22.95 for adults and $15.95 for children ages 3-12.
The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk is located at 10 N. Water St. in South Norwalk. For more information, click here or call 203-852-0700.