Another day of the countdown. This time it’s the ferocious cookie cutter shark. There’s nothing short of remarkably awesome when it comes to these sharks. They are small but also skillful in their ability to sneak up and eat prey much larger. They even have the largest tooth-to-body-length ratio of any shark (including the great white)! Learn more here.
Why are we so enamored with sharks? Why are we glued to the television in the summer during the last hours of daylight to watch fish on TV rather than playing a final game of wiffle ball or pick-up basketball? Does it have something to do with the fact that there are over 400 different types of sharks and always something new to learn? Anyway you slice it, these cartilaginous fish are pretty cool. Here are five surprising facts about sharks that will certainly get you excited to learn more and watch this year’s (hopefully) new and improved Shark Week. What is your favorite fact about sharks?
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.
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.
- What I know about whale sharks (March 2013)
- CITES recognizes marine species (March 2013)
- Myth debunked: Delaware Bay not an annual pit stop for all shark species (September 2012)
- Sink your teeth into this: 20 facts about shark teeth (August 2012)
- 10 fish you don’t see during Shark Week (August 2012)
- What is shark finning? (February 2012)
- 5 most dangerous shark species (June 2010)
- The sixth sense (August 2009)
- What do sand sharks eat? (February 2009)
- What are the rarest shark species? (February 2009)
- Do sharks have bones? (January 2009)
- What is the biggest fish in the sea? (November 2008)
Also, feel free to email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional questions!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sure, you know that whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea (reaching up to 42 feet) and they sieve plankton for nourishment. Being that you’re clever and smart you must know these ten wicked facts about whales sharks, too – but, I’ll tell you again anyway.
- Whales sharks have the thickest skin in the world – just about 10 centimeters thick!
- 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.
- Whale sharks don’t just eat plankton, they sometimes wait for fish to lay their eggs so they can eat those, too.
- In Vietnam, whale sharks are known as Ca ong, or “Sir Fish”.
- The whale shark was once worshiped in Vietnam, and along the coast you can still find ancient shrines along the coast.
- Whale sharks are covered with pale stripes and spots (see image).
- “What’s that bump?” Whale sharks attempt to get rid of skin parasites by rubbing themselves up against boats.
- Whales sharks are loners. They prefer to live, hunt, and travel alone.
- 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!
- Whale sharks are thought to be able to give birth up to 300 pups at one time.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.