Sharklahoma’s first year deemed a success
In its first year, Sharklahoma’s accomplished what its creators wanted it to, and more is to come.
July marked the first ever Sharklahoma, a month-long celebration of the world’s largest bull shark exhibit at the Oklahoma Aquarium that also tied in community events. Each week, citizens and tourists alike could partake in events such as shark feeding, marine biologist for a day or a shark-themed movie question and answer night.
The Jenks Chamber of Commerce teamed up with the aquarium to create Sharklahoma. Both sides wanted to draw more tourism to Jenks and community involvement by way of combining the aquarium and community events.
Given the unique name, uniqueness of sharks in Oklahoma and charm of Jenks, Sharklahoma was a hit.
“We had people sending us pictures from their vacations wearing their Sharklahoma shirts, that was a lot of fun,” Jenks Chamber of Commerce president Josh Driskell said.
Sharklahoma kicked off during Jenks’ July 4 celebrations and continued in the following weeks with events fun for all ages.
The aquarium hosted seven shark feeds, children had the opportunity to be a marine biologist for the day, and there were two movie nights at the aquarium showing Sharknado and Jaws.
While its purpose may be thought of just as way to attract tourism, Sharklahoma officials wanted to educate participants as well. Children weren’t the only ones whose knowledge of sharks grew.
Following the screening of Sharknado and Jaws, a question and answer panel was opened to the audience where marine biologists and the filmmakers explained inaccuracies of the films.
“It’s not just kids, the ones who are fun to watch are the adults, the ones who grew up in the Jaws generation,” Driskell said. “They saw Jaws as a child or teenager. It was fun hearing them talk, we overheard them when Money!! Was talking about sharks and somebody was saying ‘I don’t really know about that.’ But the more he listened to it the more you see education opens your eyes to new things.”
And on the tourism aspect of Sharklahoma, its mission was accomplished.
Many media outlets in Oklahoma covering the event were accompanied by neighboring states, driving more to Jenks.
“That’s always exciting,” Driskell said. “Any time we get the chance to tell, not just the aquarium story but the Jenks story to people not from here, it’s a success for us.”
And though Sharklahoma performed above standards in its first year, chamber of commerce and aquarium officials want to improve some aspects for 2020.
While Driskell liked the response from participants, he says he wants to see more buzz around the event next year.
“One of the things we’ll be looking at is more awareness, especially with our local merchants because this event was our first year and first year events are always ‘OK, what in the world is going to work this time?’” he said. “We’ll be looking for ways to further tie in with the business owners in Jenks and the Tulsa community and get the word out there.”
Moving forward, Driskell says the entire model of Sharklahoma will be updated and carefully thought out.
“As we started out with this, we wanted this to be a community celebration, not just something at the aquarium,” he said. “I think we made some good strides there. Hopefully in the next year we can grow the footprint of it. Make sure we’re looking at quality and not just quantity.
“We can have 20,000 events in a month but they’re probably not going to be very good. We want to make sure we’re doing quality things that tie in, not just the importance of tourism but conservation and talking about the Oklahoma Aquarium, not just to our residents but to those who may live in the surrounding states as well.”