ATLANTA — Ah, summer — the perfect time for tourist dining at the beach.
At least that's what the shark thinks.
Or does it?
Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium currently covers this and other toothsome subjects in "Planet Shark: Predator or Prey," an elaborate 14-gallery traveling exhibition created in Australia. The Atlanta showing, also its world debut, continues through September as an add-on attraction.
"Planet Shark" is an out-of-water exhibit that perhaps pitches a few too many facts to preach that humans are pushing the fish toward extinction. Interactive computers, films and actual-size, cast-from-life replicas keep the experience lively.
After an hour or so at "Planet Shark," check out the 70 live ones in the aquarium's permanent collection.
You'll know by then that they've evolved little since their prehistoric heyday and have always been extremely efficient killing machines. Also, that while attacks on humans are rare, fatalities are rarer still. You'll learn sharks can sniff you from a mile away and can also detect vibrations, as well as a body's electrical impulses.
There's nothing charming about them. The curiosity-plus-fear that pulls you through the entrance never goes away.
Is "Planet Shark" suitable for kids? Yes, if they're old enough for "Jaws"; especially if they enjoy Steven Spielberg's famous flick (some artifacts and footage from the 1975 release are on display).
One documentary is about a woman who loves to dive with bull sharks in the Bahamas; another is about a New Zealand couple who continue to dive in shark-infested waters after the man lost his forearm to one. Another video tells the story of Australian Rodney Fox, who was attacked by a 16-foot great white. His injuries required 400 stitches; his ripped wet suit is on display. (Fox is one of the organizers of "Planet Shark.")
More crucial is the fact that key exhibits and activities, especially near the start of "Planet Shark," are at least 3 feet off the ground — out of reach for the stroller crowd (and assuming they weren't frightened off by the full-size great white replica at the entrance).
The high-tech aspects kick in early, at amazing touch-screen computer consoles the size of small jukeboxes. They're programmed to cover the basics about the eight orders of modern-day sharks (only three of their 350-plus species present any significant danger to you), as well as the evolution of the shark.
Use the buttons to access text- and computer-generated images of the fish. The technology lets you rotate the drawings, roll the sharks over and also make them swim.
Especially cool are seven incredibly strange extinct sharks, like the helicoprion, a 15-footer with a spiraled lower jaw. Its chin resembles a rolled-up scrap of carpet.
Some of the still-around sharks have their own peculiarities — such as the green sawfish, which has teeth on its nose. Or the deep-water cookie-cutter shark, whose belly glows in the dark.
The monitors edge a room whose center is filled with a quartet of long, tabletop display cases packed with shark fossils and the bones of modern species.
A timeline puts the pieces in perspective. It also notes that the first recorded shark attack on a human was in 1580, when a Portuguese sailor fell overboard on a voyage to the Indies.
By this time, you've passed placards with factoids pointing out the unlikelihood of your coming to a gruesome end.
Out by the 20-foot great white replica, for instance, it notes that in 1996, only 20 Americans were injured by sharks — while 44,000 were injured in mishaps with toilet seats.
The second gallery holds wall bubbles containing the wicked-looking jawbones of five species found along the Carolina coast — and your mortality odds.
Shortfin mako: Chances of an attack are no greater than 1 in 93 million (you're 10 times more likely to be killed by a sand hole collapsing at the beach).
Blue shark: You're 700 times more likely to be killed in a plane crash.
Dusky whaler: You're 30 times more likely to be killed in a train crash.
Great hammerhead: In the U.S., you're 200 times more likely to be killed by a deer.
These species, according to exhibit text, account for a mere 10 confirmed kills.
Reassuring stats fade when you reach the room holding eight life-size shark replicas — each as large as a kayak. They're compared in a "Battle of the Jaws" data matchup, where the great white (437 attacks, 64 kills) easily beat the orca (12 attacks, four kills).
In short order, you'll view the Rodney Fox interview video and see his chewed-up wet suit. Then you come to the video where Mike Frasier tells how a shark made off with his arm.
You find yourself in a saltwater limbo, darting between reassuring data and gruesome Down Under anecdotes about what divers there call "shacks." You may not acquire galeophobia (fear of sharks), but you will be glad you're not a small and tasty fish.
Human curiosities include the diving cage used in "Jaws."
There's also the prototype of an anti-shark suit. U.S. inventor David Schneider's outfit looks to be made of bubble wrap, with the bubbles filled with sodium lauryl sulphate, a compound used in cosmetics and toiletries and which sharks apparently find distasteful. Working against the garment's success was the fact that one bite from a large shark could prove fatal; a later model included a Kevlar lining.
"Planet Shark" takes a final turn toward the ecological in a small us-vs.-them area: a pantry with packages of shark cartilage (a dietary supplement) and cans of shark fin soup. On average, notes a sign, six humans are killed every year by sharks. We kill more than 70 million of them.
Sharks grow slowly and are not heavy breeders. Throw in habitat destruction and the case is made that sharks are globally under attack.
Maybe the fear and curiosity should be blended into a kind of respect. Remember that when you leave "Planet Shark" and go to see the live, 24-foot whale shark gliding around the Ocean Voyager tank.
Her name is Trixie.
IF YOU GO:
BASICS: "Planet Shark: Predator or Prey" runs through September at the Georgia Aquarium, 25 Baker St. NW, in downtown Atlanta. (Parking $10; less if ordered in advance via www.georgiaaquarium.org).
HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday, 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Saturday. Extended hours on occasion; check the website.
COST: Admission to "Planet Shark" (includes admission to the aquarium): $31.50; $26.25 for 65 and older; $23.50 for ages 3-12.
DETAILS: 404-581-4000; www.georgiaaquarium.org.