"Shark!"

“Sharks are misunderstood,” says Wes Tunnell, curator of marine biology at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this claim, but we have to admit, we’ve been slow to warm to the idea. That’s where “Shark!” a special exhibit at the museum, comes in. The exhibit, which has a special focus on sharks found in the Gulf of Mexico, gives visitors an alternative view of what most people consider a deadly predator.

The exhibit starts with a mock shark cage. Visitors step into the cage area and are suddenly surrounded by video showing a large hammerhead shark circling menacingly. (The experience is said to be slightly disquieting.) There are a couple of touch tanks, low aquariums where visitors can pet several small sharks. (Exhibit guides are on hand to explain the differences in the three species on display.) Visitors can examine shark teeth, skin and scales in a lab area. Another section is devoted to OCEARCH, a nonprofit researching and studying sharks, especially those in the Gulf Coast area.

On one wall, the lifesize jaws of today’s great white sharks — big — are compared to those of their ancestors the megalodons — huge. The comparison is startling. The megalodons, which roamed the oceans some 1.5 million years ago, dwarf their contemporary counterparts. Great whites can bite a human in half; megalodons could have easily swallowed an adult whole.

9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Through March 22. 5555 Hermann Park Drive. For information, call 713‑639‑4629 or visit hmns.org. $25.
Dec. 1-March 22, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 2014

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Olivia Flores Alvarez