As they trained for more than a year, Clews developed a bond with the animals after diving with them and interacting with them to prepare them for the exhibit. "They're shallow-water sharks, usually hanging out in the reefs," she said. "They're beautiful animals."
Still, sharks are often misunderstood as ever-hungry, man-eating predators -- notions the aquarium would like to change, Cover said. And sharks are hunted for their fins, meat and skins.
"People really have a completely wrong picture of what they do and that they have a role in the health of a healthy ecosystem like a reef," he said. "We wanted to basically show it and then tell [visitors] that if the sharks are removed, the reef is going to suffer."
Visitors can get a sense of what it's like to be at sea level, as well as to gaze down on the tank full of fish from a bird's-eye view. Concrete walls have been replaced with glass walls to open up the exhibit space.
One major addition is a large glass-enclosed underwater viewing area that juts into the coral habitat to replace what had been two small portals. Now visitors can see tiny blue and orange fish that feed and hide in the coral and have an up-close look at sharks and the giant sea turtle.
"It's like you're entering their world," Cover said. "It will look very different."
The result is a colorful, lively centerpiece for one of Baltimore's top attractions, which draws about 1.5 million visitors each year with its companion aquarium in Washington. The renovation was funded with a combination of government funds and donor contributions. The aquarium will celebrate the exhibit's grand opening Aug. 8.
Soon it will also add fish from the aquarium's Washington location, which is closing because of renovations at its home in the Department of Commerce.