Hark! The herald angel (shark) strikes?

Angel Shark

Just one of the 25 Christmas/winter marine themed organisms on the Pinterest board. Check out the others here: http://www.pinterest.com/beachcscientist/christmaswinter-themed-marine-organisms/

Not often. But, the angel shark has been known to strike – if provoked. These strikes are similar to those made by its cartilaginous relatives, rays and skates, coming from the surface of the ocean floor (they’re pretty good with the camouflage as you might notice from the picture on the right). However, unlike rays and skates, the nocturnal angel shark doesn’t have a mouth on the underside of its body, but rather in front. This location is best suited for a diet of crustaceans, mollusks, and flatfish. With their enormous mouth they’ll suck the prey in and swallow it whole.

But, one of the most significant “Did you know?s” about the angel shark are that their lower lobe is longer than the upper lobe, whereas most shark caudal fins are top-heavy.

Also, pretty fun to learn is that angel sharks are ovoviviparous, just like frilled sharks, seahorses, and scorpionfish. This means “The young sharks tend to develop inside the female mothers.”

12 bite-sized shark posts (holding the hokey here)

Ok, maybe not so much in the title. Did you know sharks have roamed the earth for 400 million years and have been instrumental in maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems?  They’re amazing creatures and in case you’re actually interested in learning about sharks (instead of becoming frightened by them while watching Shark Week), here are 12 of the most popular posts about sharks on BCS from the past five years.

  1. What I know about whale sharks (March 2013)
  2. CITES recognizes marine species (March 2013)
  3. Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species (September 2012)
  4. Sink your teeth into this: 20 facts about shark teeth (August 2012)
  5. 10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week (August 2012)
  6. What is shark finning? (February 2012)
  7. 5 most dangerous shark species (June 2010)
  8. The sixth sense (August 2009)
  9. What do sand sharks eat? (February 2009)
  10. What are the rarest shark species? (February 2009)
  11. Do sharks have bones? (January 2009)
  12. What is the biggest fish in the sea? (November 2008)

Also, feel free to email any questions to info@beachchairscientist.com if you have additional questions!

A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Chum

Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives
Discovery brings SHARK WEEK viewers on a search for a massive killer Great White shark responsible for a rash of fatalities off the coast of South Africa. One controversial scientist believes that the shark responsible could be Megalodon, a 60-foot relative of the Great White that is one of the largest and most powerful predators in history. Our oceans remain 95% unexplored, and this massive prehistoric predator has always been shrouded in secrecy, but after a rash of newly discovered evidence, authorities are forced to investigate and hunt for the predator long thought to be extinct. A crew of scientists and shark experts examine evidence and fearlessly seek answers to the many questions surrounding one of the last great mysteries of the deep ocean while creating the largest chum slick in history. (http://bit.ly/SharkWeek2013-programming) 

That’s the way Shark Week feels to me these days, like a big, multi-platform chum slick…a greasy, fetid soup of fear and fascination that titillates more that it educates. Is that over the top? Yeah, probably, but then it will fit right into a line-up that includes titles like: I Escaped Jaws, Great White Serial Killer, and Sharkpocalypse. In all honesty, most of these shows will not be nearly as bad as their titles suggest. My primary beef is (and continues to be) the lack of shark diversity during Shark Week.

But hark, what’s that? A bioluminescent beacon of light from the deep? On Thursday, August 8, Discovery’s feature program is Alien Sharks of the Deep. Reading that title out loud makes it sound worse than the rest…like an early draft of the robo-monster blockbuster Pacific Rim. But no, this program appears to explore the weird, wonderful, and diverse sharks of the oceanic abyss. Could this restore my faith in the potential that is Shark Week? Think of some of the possibilities:

 Goblin sharks: Goblins have been known as tenguzame, after tengu, a fantastical creature of Japanese mythology often depicted with an elongated nose or beak. Goblins are fantastical in their own right, with long, blade-like rostrums and slingshot protrusible jaws that have to be seen to be believed.

070209-goblin-shark_big

Goblin shark

 Taillight and lantern sharks: Many deepsea sharks are bioluminescent, creating light with specialized organs called photophores. Many of these sharks use their photophores to hide in the downwelling light by erasing their shadows through counterillumination. Tailight sharks also secrete a blue luminescent fluid from their, um, ‘tail end.’ Since the species is known from only two specimens and has never been seen alive, no one knows exactly what this fluid is for.

 Megamouth: Not to be confused with Megalodon. In fact, the two couldn’t be less alike. Large Megalodon teeth may be 5-7 inches long (about the size of your hand), megamouth teeth 5-7 millimeters (half the size of your pinkie fingernail). Whereas Megalodon likely fed on whales and other large marine mammals and turtles, megamouth is a plankton specialist. There have been only 55 confirmed sightings of megamouth sharks since 1976, and only a handful of these have been examined by scientists.   

Megamouth-shark

Megamouth shark

 Frilled sharks: Frilled sharks are a freak show. They hardly look like sharks at all. Well, they do, just more like sharks from hundreds of millions of years ago. The long, eel-like body, terminal mouth, unusual teeth, fins, and other anatomical features are all distinctly ancient. 

Frilled-shark-showing-specially-adapted-teeth

Frilled shark

 Rough sharks: Rough sharks are another group that breaks the stereotypical shark mold—small and hunchbacked, with large spiny dorsal fins. They may be fairly common in the deep waters where they’re found, but still, we know very little.

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

Rough shark. Photo Joanna Franke

 Six- and sevengills: Cow sharks are another group with distinctly ancient features. Many have seen sevengills in public aquariums, but the larger sixgill sharks don’t do as well on display. Sixgills are broad, ponderous creatures, with large specimens more than 16 feet long and as big around as a Volkswagen (as one diver describes them). These normally deepwater denizens have been occasionally spotted right under pier at the Seattle Aquarium. Puget Sound’s deep, glacier-etched profile provides a unique opportunity to observe and study these sharks without the need for research vessels or submersibles. 

Bluntnose six-gill shark

Bluntnose six-gill shark

 Cookiecutters: Interested in learning about a glowing foot-long shark that feeds on whales, tunas, swordfish, and squid? So are scientists, as they don’t seem to agree on how this small, slow-swimming shark seems to manage it. While they might not have the physique for the feat, they have the oral equipment. Fleshy lips and a strong tongue create a suction grip that buys time for the cookiecutter’s large, triangular lower teeth to cut a plug from its unsuspecting victim. 

Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

Cookie cutter shark. Photograph by Reuters/Tokyo Sea Life Park/Handout

 Cats and dogs: The deepsea is really the realm of dogfish and catsharks…dozens of species, some with names alone that inspire curiosity. Don’t you want to know more about lollipop catsharks, mosaic gulper sharks, birdbeak dogfish, spatulasnout catsharks, velvet bellies, demon catsharks, frog sharks, pajama sharks, pocket sharks, and pygmy ribbontail catsharks? Me too.

 I’m excited for Alien Sharks in a way I haven’t been for Shark Week programming in a very long time. Wednesday night I’ll have trouble sleeping with visions of lanternsharks dancing in my head. There is soooo much more to sharks than white sharks and tigers and bulls (oh my). How can we encourage more programming that highlights this fascinating diversity? We can watch.

 That’s my call to action. Watch Alien Sharks of the Deep on August 8, 10:00/9:00 central. Ask your friends to watch. Throw an Alien Sharks party. Dress up like an Alien Shark for work. Live tweet #AlienSharks like the second coming of Sharknado (you can follow and tweet at me @jimwharton). Show Discovery your love for Alien Sharks and beg them for more. Be as pathetic as you like. Let’s send a message that it’s a big wide world of sharks out there and we want to see more of it…and we’ll be happy to swim through an ocean of chum to get there.

What I know about whale sharks

Sure, you know that whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea (reaching 33 to 39 feet) and they sieve plankton for nourishment. Being that you’re clever and smart you must know these 10 wicked facts about whales sharks, too – but, I’ll tell you again anyway.

  1. Whale-Shark-03Whales sharks have the thickest skin in the world – just about 10 centimeters thick!
  2. Whale sharks may have wide mouths for gulping plankton, but don’t worry – they can’t swallow a diver as their throats are exceptionally narrow in comparison to their mouths.
  3. Whale sharks don’t just eat plankton, they sometimes wait for fish to lay their eggs so they can eat those, too.
  4. In Vietnam, whale sharks are known as Ca ong, or “Sir Fish”.
  5. The whale shark was once worshiped in Vietnam, and along the coast you can still find ancient shrines along the coast.
  6. Whale sharks are covered with pale stripes and spots (see image).
  7. “What’s that bump?” Whale sharks attempt to get rid of skin parasites by rubbing themselves up against boats.
  8. Whales sharks are loners. They prefer to live, hunt, and travel alone.
  9. Most sharks live to be around 25 to 30 years old, however whales sharks and dogfish sharks can live to be 100 years or more!
  10. Whale sharks are thought to be able to give birth up to 300 pups at one time.

Please feel free to comment below or email questions on this post to Ann McElhatton, Beach Chair Scientist, at info@beachchairscientist.com.

3 truths on the fables about ‘dolphin-safe’ labels

It all started recently as my 2 year-old showed those tendencies towards becoming a picky eater. I embarked on a supermarket safari for proteins and soon enough I found myself in the canned tuna aisle. Have you been there lately? It’s a little overwhelming with all of the labels. I usually just go for the salmon for the additional omega-3s, but I had a feeling the toddler would turn that down. Also, I am all about rites of passage and isn’t canned tuna with mayonnaise on toast right up there with peanut butter and jelly and macaroni and cheese? Given that I do care, especially with the recent findings of an Oceana report that states 1 in 3 fish are mislabeled,  the nerd in me had to navigate the meaning behind all those ‘eco-safe’ labels found on canned tuna.

Here’s some surprising truths behind the fables about the ‘dolphin-safe’ label you’ll need to know before baking your next casserole:

1) The U.S. wouldn’t sell anything that’s not ‘dolphin-safe’ – label or not. While it’s true that the U.S. has the most restrictive definition of what it means to be ‘dolphin-safe’ it’s also true that canned tuna is the #1 seafood import in the U.S. The internationally accepted definition of ‘dolphin-safe’ is “tuna caught in sets in which dolphins are not killed or seriously injured,” but the U.S. requires that “no tuna were caught on the trip in which such tuna were harvested using a purse seine net intentionally deployed on or to encircle dolphins, and that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna were caught.” Unfortunately, if we’re rarely eating tuna from the U.S. we can’t say how it’s caught.

2) ‘Dolphin-safe’ labels are designated by the government. I was shocked to realize that its independent observers (i.e., private organizations) making claims to what is ‘dolphin-safe’. But, then I remembered that tuna are an especially difficult species to manage given that they migrate all over the world. The good news on the horizon is that during his State of the Union address in January, President Obama mentioned the U.S. will begin negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union. What does this have to do with tuna fisheries? Well, apparently the talks for the FTA would include discussions on non-tariff barriers. Non-tariff barriers include “things like labels indicating a product’s country-of-origin, whether tuna is dolphin-safe, or whether your breakfast cereal has genetically-modified corn in it.” The need to be more consistent as to how we label tuna was also acknowledged by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The WTO noted that, “while well-intentioned, the ‘dolphin-safe’ labels are deceptive to consumers and quite outdated”. Also, according to the Campaign for Eco-Safe Tuna, “There’s no denying that more than 98% of the tuna in the U.S. market today is sourced from unmonitored and untracked fisheries where thousands of dolphins are killed every year.” That’s a frightening statistic if you’re trying to make the right choice on what can of tuna to purchase.

leatherback_worldwildlifedotorg

Image (c) World Wildlife Fund

3) If it’s ‘dolphin-safe’ it must be safe for all marine life. Let’s cut to the chase here. Canned tuna that is troll or hook-and-line caught is the best choice for a conscious consumer. Other methods of fishing for tuna (e.g., backdown technique, purse seines) have been shown to cause long-term stress to dolphins (leading to their eventual death), including heart and muscle lesions. You might also be disheartened to realize that sharks, billfish, birds, and sea turtles (see image) are often the unintended catch (known as ‘bycatch’) of fishing for tuna. The fish aggregating devices (FAD) commonly used to catch tuna are known as some as the most destructive fishing practices man has ever used.

Where does that leave me in the decision of what type of tuna to purchase for my family? As I mentioned, choosing hook and line (also known as ‘pole-caught’) canned tuna is the most sustainable choice. Fishing for tuna with hook and line 1) enables fish that are too small to be returned to the ocean, 2) practically eradicates any bycatch, and 3) ensures the ocean ecosystem to remain intact eliminating the potential loss of biodiversity. Be careful though since ‘line-caught’ can mean using a longline to catch tuna. However, this method produces ample bycatch as well.

Please feel free to comment below or email questions on this article to Ann McElhatton, Beach Chair Scientist, at info@beachchairscientist.com.

CITES recognizes important marine species

You might think that sharks are a predator that we want to eradicate, but that’s far from the truth of the matter. For a healthy ocean we need the top predator. For 5 species of sharks – oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead (pictured below), great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, and porbeagle sharks – there was some inspiring news during the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Proposals were adopted that would give them greater protection and provide them with less risk from overfishing (According to the Guardian, “Those fishing for oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerhead shark will now require strictly controlled permits to export the fins”) for these sharks. However, the move will need to be adopted completely by a final plenary session scheduled for Thursday. It’s a particularly significant move considering CITES meetings take place every three years and that CITES has not traditionally leaned towards protecting marine species due to the intense political and economic issues that are related to fisheries issues. According to the Washington Post, “Elizabeth Wilson, who manages the Pew Environment Group’s global shark campaign, said the broad array of countries backing the proposals this year helped produce success this time around”.

Globally,  sharks are in peril and overexploited due in major part to a voracious demand for shark fins, especially in Asian markets, since it’s the primary ingredient in shark fin soup (more affordable and more popular than ever at Asian weddings). While it might be a difficult culture shift for the expanding Asian middle class (a delegate at CITES stated, “It would be like telling the French not to have champagne at their wedding“), ultimately it’s what has to be done since shark populations have fallen to such low levels. As they saw off the coast of North Carolina once sharks were overfished rays thrived and then destroyed the lucrative bay scallop fishery. Here is another resource outlining the importance of sharks to the ocean ecosystem.

Scalloped hammerhead shark (sphyrna lewini)

Scalloped hammerhead shark (sphyrna lewini) from NatGeoTV

Strike a pose with Shark Stanley for shark conservation

Surely you’ve taken pictures with Flat Stanley, a tool used to advance children’s literacy – But, did you know that you can now take a shark on your adventures? Grab a Shark Stanley printout and show your support for shark conservation by participating in this initiative of the Shark Defenders. Help them reach their goal of collecting at least 5,000 photos! It’s important to gather these photos in time for the upcoming Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in March. Check out all the places Shark Stanley has been on the Instagram and Facebook pages!

Why is shark conservation important?

Sharks are in peril and overexploited due in major part to a voracious demand for shark fins, especially in Asian markets. Shark finning is the removal and retention of shark fins and  discarding the body at sea (The animal is often alive when tossed back into the water!). The Pew Environment Group estimates that “Up to 73 million sharks are killed every year to primarily support the global shark fin industry”. The underlying problem is that sharks grow slow, mature late, and produce few young over their long lifetime – meaning their populations recover slowly once depleted. Depleted populations affect the health of the entire ocean ecosystem. Here are some examples on how it’s all connected:

  • Sharks help maintain healthy fish stocks because they prey on vulnerable sick, diseased, or old animals – thereby, preventing disease or sickness from spreading.
  • Sharks have the ability to ensure we always have vital seagrass beds by controlling their prey, dugongs and green sea turtles – which forage in these beds. Healthy seagrass beds are essential for maintaining good water quality in our estuaries.
  • Sharks are the #1 draw for many divers providing a booming tourism industry to remote places that might not otherwise have a good economy.
Print Shark Stanley and take a picture with him showing your support. Don't forget to tag @SharkDefenders, #SharkStanley, and the country you live (i.e., #USA).

Print Shark Stanley and take a picture with him showing your support. Don’t forget to tag @SharkDefenders, #SharkStanley, and the country you live (i.e., #USA).

 

Do you know your seafood?

With the holidays right around the corner there will no doubt be plenty of indulgences. It is important to keep in mind that seafood can also be considered an extravagance if you’re choosing an unsustainable option to serve or taste. Did you know that the global fishing fleet can catch up to two and a half times what the ocean produces? 80% of fish stocks are harvested at or above maximum sustainable yield? Check out this infographic by One World One Ocean that was released last month for National Seafood Month  for those facts and a whole lot more, including 1) fish on the red list (not good) and green list (good), 2) reasons why these fish are on these lists, 3) chefs and grocers to support, and 4) important guides to download.

From 'One World One Ocean'

From ‘One World One Ocean’

Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species

A fan of Beach Chair Scientist on Facebook recently asked me to demystify a rumor she had heard. This is what she wanted to know: “I was told that over the course of a year, at least one of every species of shark can be found in the Delaware Bay. Do you know if this is true?” I asked Jim Wharton, frequent BCS guest blogger and shark expert, to tackle this one. This is his response.

Sadly, it is not true. There are at least 500 species of sharks in the ocean. They range in size from six inches to sixty feet. They can be found in water ankle deep to the abyssal depths … from the tropics to polar ice caps. To find a nexus point like this anywhere in the ocean would miraculous. Sharks are just too diverse.

Still, there are sharks in Delaware Bay. Anglers might encounter sand tigers, sandbar (brown) sharks, smooth dogfish, and spiny dogfish with other occasional visitors (including at least one record of a juvenile white shark). In fact, the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified the Bay as ‘Essential Fish Habitat’ for several species of Federally protected ‘Highly Migratory Species’ including sandbar sharks, sand tigers, and smooth dogfish. This designation recognizes the critical foraging and nursery habitat the Bay provides for these important species.

Sand tiger shark at the Georgia Aquarium. Image (c) Underwater Times

Dr Dewayne Fox’s lab at Delaware State University is working to create a conservation plan for the sand tiger sharks in the Bay. These distinctive, snaggletoothed sharks are very popular in public aquariums. Despite their fearsome appearance, they rarely interact with people. Sand tigers are top predators and represent a critical keystone species in the ecology of Delaware Bay. Dr. Fox and his students are implanting passive acoustic transmitters inside sharks to better understand their movement patterns. The transmitters emit an identifiable ‘ping’ that is collected by strategically located listening stations to help researchers track the animals in the Bay. Understanding how the sharks use the Delaware Bay is essential to identifying critical habitat for protection. You can learn more about Dr. Fox’s work here.

Sand tigers, by way, are freakish and fantastic creatures that are well-worth saving. No sharks have swim bladders, but sand tigers gulp air at the surface to make themselves neutrally buoyant. Sand tigers are one of many species that explode the myth of the shark in constant motion, frequently found lying near-motionless on the sandy bottom. Sand tigers are fish-specialists, with more-than-a-mouthful of narrow, prong-shaped teeth for grabbing slippery prey. They like to hang-out in large aggregations and may actively cooperate to herd schools of fish. Most fantastic of all…baby sand tigers are “embryonic cannibals.” Sand tiger embryos quickly exhaust their meager yolk sacs and start in on the undeveloped eggs…but they don’t stop there. The largest embryo in each uterus (yes, sharks have two) attacks and consumes its brothers and sisters in the ultimate form of sibling rivalry.

Good references for more on sand tigers:

  • Castro, J. I. (2011). The sharks of North America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Compagno, L. J. V., Dando, M., & Fowler, S. L. (2005). Sharks of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thanks for sharing you knowledge, Jim! Check out his other BCS posts on sharks here.

10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week

I confess. I’ve given up on Shark Week. It took 25 years to shake me, but for the first time I can remember, I won’t be watching. When I was 16, you couldn’t schedule enough great white and shark attack programming to satisfy me. Danger Beach, Vic Hislop, Air Jaws … it was all good. It’s obviously a winning formula for Discovery, but for me, it’s just not enough any more.

There are 500 species of sharks out there. Probably more. There are so many stories to tell. Here are ten you (probably) won’t see this year during Shark Week:

1. Ocean giants. The two largest fishes on Earth are sharks. Thirty-foot, plankton-eating basking sharks can filter a swimming pool of seawater every hour through sieve-like gill rakers in their throats. Whale sharks grow bigger than school buses, and gather by the hundreds in the waters off Mexico’s Isla Holbox and other global hotspots for seasonal feasts of zooplankton or fish eggs. Despite surviving on this surface-dwelling diet, researchers have also tracked whale sharks to depths of more than 6,000 feet. Why?

2. Glowing deepsea sharks. Lantern sharks glow in the dark and hide in the light. Many species of deepwater sharks, including the lantern sharks, are bioluminescent (i.e., they create their own light). Some of these sharks can even project light from their bellies that closely matches the light filtering down from above, erasing their silhouette. They also happen to be beautiful little creatures with fantastic names, like the velvet belly shark, the taillight shark, and the splendid lantern shark. Wouldn’t you like to meet a splendid lantern shark?

3. Cookie cutters. Shark geeks know all about the cookie-cutter shark, but I always forget that they’re not exactly famous…yet. A big cookie-cutter is less than two feet long and yet they’ve been known to feed on tuna, seals, dolphins, and whales…yes, whales. It’s a neat trick. The cookie-cutters sneak up on large prey, attach themselves with fat, sucking lips and twist and thrash until they pull free a round plug of flesh. These little sharks have a remarkable set of jaws with positively enormous teeth. In fact, the cookie-cutters have the largest tooth-to-body-length ratio of any shark (including the great white).

4. Wobbegongs. Can I interest you in a flat shark with patterns like bad 70’s wallpaper and a mustache that would put Tom Selleck to shame? Wobbegongs are bottom-dwelling masters of camouflage with ornate, branching lobes hanging from their upper jaws that look enough like algae or kelp to attract unsuspecting fishes and crustaceans. Wobbegongs lie in wait until their prey gets just a little too close, then erupt in an explosion of tassels and teeth.

5. Hammers and saws. You may have seen hammerheads during Shark Week, but have you ever seen a winghead shark? Wingheads have ‘hammers’ nearly half their total body length. To what benefit? Don’t know. What’s stranger than a hammerhead? How about a sawshark? Imagine a shark, with a chainsaw blade attached to its face and two long noodle-like nasal barbels for detecting buried prey. You can’t make this stuff up.

6. Here be goblins. All sharks have protrusible jaws. Their choppers are loosely attached to their skull, which allows them to push their jaws forward to get a little extra reach, or to create suction. Goblin shark jaws aren’t just extendable, they’re spring-loaded. Elastic ligaments are stretched taught when the shark’s mouth is closed and slingshot the jaws forward as they open. Goblins may need the extra reach to get out from under their long, wide rostrum…which looks a little like an ironing board (at least to me).

7. Helicoprion. You’ll hear plenty about the mega-monstrous megalodon this week, but I’d rather hear a little more about a real pre-historic elasmobranch enigma. Helicoprion had a strange spiral tooth whorl that early paleontologists had no idea what to do with. Some placed it in the sharks’ mouth, some on their dorsal fin. Some suggested it shot out like a frog’s tongue to ensnare their prey. Though speculation seemed to have settled on a lower jaw placement, at least one author suggests the teeth may have resided in Helicoprion’s throat.

8. The shark that walks like a dog. One of my favorites is the epaulette shark, a charming little carpet shark with a distinctive ocellated spot on its flank and a peculiar habit of locomotion. Epaulettes scamper across the reef on large pectoral and pelvic fins. Truthfully, these sharks look more like salamanders than dogs as they wriggle over complex coral reef habitats…and maybe a little like pigs as they root around in the substrate searching for food with their nasal barbels.

9. The sharks who’re named for cats. The catsharks are the largest family of sharks, and boast some of the strangest and most beautiful sharks in the sea. Some catsharks sport snappy colors and patterns like the striped pajama catshark and the chain dogfish (which is actually a catshark). Others are just bizarre, like the spatulasnout and lollipop catsharks, two hyper-specialized deepsea rarities. The aptly named swell shark gulps seawater (or air) and inflates like a pufferfish when threatened.

10. Sleepers. There’s not only diversity in size, shape, and appearance; there is also surprising variety in the ranges and habitats of sharks. Would you expect to find sharks beneath arctic ice sheets? Greenland sharks and Pacific sleepers are lumbering, flabby, but impressive beasts, surviving and thriving where you’d least expect. Stomach contents range widely from giant squid to halibut to seal and whale blubber to at least one (probably apocryphal) account of an entire reindeer.

That’s ten, but I’m still ignoring that other elusive plankton-feeding giant, the megamouth shark, not to mention the long-tailed threshers, the surrealistic rough sharks, frilled sharks, cowsharks, spotted zebra sharks, and puffadder shysharks. I won’t be watching, so if you hear more than a gee-whiz sound bite on any of these sharks, you’ll have to leave a comment to let me know and my faith will be restored.

I will credit Shark Week for creating a lot of excitement about sharks once a year. Some of the kids thrilled by the antics of bait-addled and target-tempted whites, tigers and other super predators will go on to become scientists, conservationists and marine educators…but many others will merely have tired shark stereotypes newly instilled or freshly reinforced. The challenge falls to educators, researchers, and shark enthusiasts to pick up the gauntlet and fill in the blanks for those viewers who just don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to the unappreciated (but critically important) diversity of sharks.

This post was contributed by Jim Wharton, Director of Conservation and Education at the Seattle Aquarium.