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East Valley Focus

SAN FERNANDO : Children Get a Close-Up Look at Sharks

July 23, 1993|THOM MROZEK

In the parking lot of the San Fernando Library, marine biologist Juan Hernandez hovered over a small tank containing four live sharks, including a two-foot shovelnose guitarfish.

"How many of you eat fish and chips? They make them out of that," said Hernandez, pointing to the shark after warning onlookers to avoid sticking their hands in the water.

The library program by the state Department of Fish and Game, featuring live and dead sharks, drew more than 300 children and their parents, many of whom had never seen a shark before.

"It was, like, nasty. Some felt soft and some felt hard," said 11-year-old Laura Chavez, as she prodded and poked the backs of each of the frozen sharks on display inside the library.

"They're pretty cool," said Ricardo Sandoval, 10, after viewing the sharks, ranging from the spiny dogfish to the bat ray.

Hernandez said the exhibit, part of the department's outreach program, provides children attending inner-city schools a chance to encounter sharks up close. "When kids get a better appreciation of what these things are, it makes our job easier," he said.

The shark exhibit was part of the library's annual summer reading program for children, which was nearly canceled this year because of budget cutbacks.

Azar Hazrati, the children's librarian, said the library saw its budget for the reading program dwindle to almost nothing after the county library system lost millions of dollars in funding last year.

Not willing to give up on a tradition that draws more than 100 children a week, Hazrati tried to salvage the program by shortening its length and finding activities that cost nothing.

Hazrati booked the Fish and Game program after discovering the price was right: free.

"This year was a bad year. Not only did we not have any money, but we weren't sure we were going to be open on certain days," Hazrati said. "We know many of these kids don't do anything else for fun."

The last series in the reading program, "Frisbee Day," will be July 29.

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