I have always believed children (and adults) learn better from experiences than from books. Whilst on a recent trip to Port Stephens, I had the opportunity to take my son to hand feed sharks and sting rays at the Australian Shark and Ray Centre. And what an amazing experience that was.
With Steve Irwin's fatal stingray encounter playing in his head, 11 year old Jordan was afraid to get in the tank where the sting rays and sharks were freely swimming.
No amount of reassuring from me and staff was enough to convince him that he was safe. Knowing how determined he usually is, I knew at that moment, no words were going to help him. I had to walk away and let him face his fear.
I turned my back, took a few steps in the opposite direction and then turned around … and sure enough, he had taken his first few steps in the tank with the rays, and was grinning from ear to ear. I was so proud of him. But it didn't stop there.
On the side of the pool stood a young boy, who was also afraid to get in. Jordan didn't hesitate … he took him by the hand and slowly lead him down the stairs, assuring him he would be ok.
They fed and patted rays and sharks together and even though the little boy had an older brother and sister, he would only let Jordan guide him through the water, as they ventured into different tanks.
When it came to the deepest tank, Jordan carried the little boy onto a step, so he could stand in the middle of it all. The boys laughed as they fed the sea creatures and the little boy's parents gratefully watched, filming every step he took. It was a very moving moment … to see my son overcome his fear and help someone at the same time.
The Australian Shark and Ray Centre is suitable for children of all ages. They can feed, pat and play with these amazing creatures, either standing outside the tank or in waist deep water or less, and hand feed sharks and rays. It is certainly an experience they will never forget.
The centre is a home to white spotted sharks, tawny nurse sharks, leopard sharks, eagle rays, shovelnose rays, black stingrays and more.
Currently there are two locations:,
686 Marsh Road, Bobs Farm at Port Stephens
Corner of Princess Highway and Progress Street in Dandenong, Victoria.
Both are open daily from 9am to 5pm.
Cost is $29.50 for adults and $19.50 for children. An additional fee of $15 per person is charged for the in-water experience. Wetsuits, shoes and gloves are provided for those venturing in the water.