Tuesday afternoon on August 4, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry got the thrill of a lifetime -- a scuba dive in Shark Reef in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay. This fish eyeview of sharks at his finger tips came just days before the launch of the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, annually held at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Digital Journal was there for an exclusive with Rod while he took the personalized tour, met the staff, went through orientation, suited up in scuba gear, and took the dive of a lifetime.
For openers, for fans who know the many series and movies, this whole adventure was like an episode on board the Starship Enterprise.
Moving through inner workings that make Shark Reef possible, was like walking through engineering of the Enterprise, both old and new. At one point, it got so surreal that it was just like being in the new movie when Scottie is purged from the water system, when he is beamed aboard the Enterprise.
Rod was like a kid opening presents at a birthday party. He was very attentive and grinning ear to ear in anticipation of the big dive. From the water filtration systems to the salt water systems to the food preparation area, the staff and guides were all very informative and took great pleasure in sharing their knowledge and a few funny stories.
The tour started with showing Rod some of the jaws of sharks. He commented, “I watch Shark Week and TiVo it.” He pointed out while looking at a set of shark jaws, “The teeth for cutting are on the top and the ripping teeth are on the bottom.”
Tricia Pettitt the Education Manager and Steven Schenk Educator for Shark Reef gave the personalized tour for Rod, his photographer, and Digital Journal. This exclusive walk through support systems showed the great care and detail it takes to maintain a salt water environment along with the considerations that the staff of the facility take to care for their aquamarine guests. The sharks and other sea creatures who depend on the massive facility, that no one sees, but enjoys the end results viewing these creatures of the ocean, is an engineering marvel.
When asked about the dive for Rod, Pettitt said, “This program just started a month ago, so now guests who are certified divers and staying here can make arrangements for this kind of special dive.”
Once we got to the dive preparation station, located just outside the aquarium, Rod immediately pulled out a brand new dive suit with the Star Trek Captains color of yellow and his Dive Teams logo on the shoulder. Again, it was like being in an episode of Star Trek.
Jack Jewell the General Curator took charge of the tour from there and began his orientation for Rod's dive into Shark Reef.
Even though this was supposed to a fun adventure, very serious precautions and lots of signatures where needed. Rod said, “I’m signing my life away.” The joke brought chuckles from the group of now assembled staff members. Jack shot back to Rod, “Any parting remarks?”
Once most of the paperwork was completed, Jack began to go over the rules of the dive with Rod with attention to detail and instructions on how perform while inside the aquarium.
Jack said, “Stay with in 10 feet of me, remember this is their home, we just want to visit their house. When we open the gate there will be a lot of traffic, so when I say go, swim fast.”
Jack continued with, “We will swim to the top of the shipwreck, the female Sand Tigers will be the most curious of the sharks.”
Jack warned, “The sea turtles are very interested in everything, but they are the ones who will nip you.” The Green Sea Turtles are one of the endangered species that call the aquarium home. The other is the Green Saw Fish. So Rod not only swam with sharks, he got to swim up close to two endangered species.
Jack continued, “If a shark does come to close, make a fist and push them away, they will responded to a gentle push. Don’t let them get with in 6 feet, if they do, pull your mask and allow the air to discharge, this will get them to change directions, but don’t do it if they are to close to you, it will frighten them and then they will go ping ponging off and get everyone in the tank very excited, and we don’t want that.”
With all that said and more, it was time to change into Rods new Captains yellow dive suit and then, after a demonstration from Jack, Rod put on his chain-mail protective suit over top of his dive suit. The chain mail is to protect the diver from being bitten severely. If a shark was to take a bite at a diver, it would quickly recoil because they do not like the feel of it.
Once the chain mail was on it was time to put on the diving tanks and head into the aquarium, get in the water, put on fins, and go through more preparation before Jack and Rod entered through an underwater gate for Rod's 45 minutes of the underwater adventure.
Digital Journal moved quickly to the viewing area, where the tourist were listening to their electronic guides. From that vantage point, all that could be done was to watch, take pictures, and envy the adventure Rod was having.
At one point Rod and Jack came right up to the glass to wave at the tourist, smile and then move back into the aquarium were Rod was allowed to dig in the gravel to find fresh shark teeth.
To say it was like watching an episode of Star Trek would be redundant, but it was. Floating with the sharks and other fish that inhabit this world was like watching astronauts floating in space, with creatures of the universe stopping by to pay their regards to the visitors. You could see the pleasure in the body movements of Rod. He was clearly having the time of his life.
All to soon, the 45 minutes was over and Rod and Jack made their way back to the gate that they had entered.
Rod's first word once surfacing and pulling off his mask was, “Awesome!” You could see the passion in his eyes.
Rod told Jack, “I want to thank Mandalay Bay for doing this during shark week, it was great, thank you so much. I am glad you offered the experience, I hope it will teach a lot about sharks.”
Rod went on to say, “It was a magical experience swimming with the sharks.”
Once Rod got out of the water and was able to take of the chain mail and scuba gear off, he went back into the aquarium to shoot some footage for his website and fans of Star Trek wearing his special made dive suit.
A little over two hours since the tour and dive began it was over, the equipment all cleaned and put away, and Rod was back in his street cloths wearing a wide grin.
Rod had gone were few men have gone before -- into Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Rod Roddenberry will be at his booth for Roddenberry.com at the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention at the Hilton all weekend. He will also be making a stage appearance to speak about Star Trek, Roddenberry.com, and the Roddenberry Dive Team.
The Convention starts on Thursday and runs until Sunday, and tickets can only be purchased at the event, sponsored and put on by Creation Entertainment, which has been doing Star Trek conventions for 38 years.