If I could be anywhere in the world it would be on an all-expenses-paid spa vacation with unlimited massages, manis, and margaritas. But in favor of a more realistic location (that I can afford on my meager writer’s income), I’d head to the beach.
There’s just one catch when it comes to beaches.
So maybe I’ve been watching too much of the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, but when I hear “shark,” my brain conjures up an image of an aquatic terrorist, rising from the deep and baring razor sharp teeth to tear the limbs from the body of an innocent co-ed taking an early morning swim in the ocean. Thank you, Peter Benchley. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.
It’s those kinds of scary images that have given rise to a fear of our cartilaginous fish friend, the shark.
We’ve burdened these creatures with nicknames like Man-Eating Shark, even though most of them aren’t the least bit interested in dining on men. Or women. The phrase Into the Shark Tank can mean entering dangerous waters where you can get eaten alive by a shark with a taste for blood. Or by Mark Cuban. Law school graduates who land one rung below pond scum, end up being tagged as sharks. It’s not a stretch to see why sharks get an undeserved bad rap.
Since the dawn of time, more than 400+ species of sharks have been swimming in the salty seas off the coasts of California, Florida, and Amity Island (home of Jaws), and wherever else sharks hang out. But only 20 species are threats to mankind. Face it. Humans are the real predators here, seeking out sharks for meat, shark-fin soup, and of course, the highly desirable shark jaw knick-knacks. When a shark dines on a person, it is quite possibly an accident. With 50 or so shark attacks each year, or to be more politically correct…shark encounters…only 10% are fatal, so it’s rare that boys and girls end up on the menu. When they do, the shark has probably mistaken them for a seal.
In fairness, the Discovery Channel has done a stellar job of creating awareness around sharks with its annual mid-summer Shark Week. Typically, Shark Week isn’t on my TV line-up as I’m far more interested bottom dweller shows like The Bachelor. (Yeah, I know. I’m not proud of it.) But earlier this week, I ended up watching a segment of Shark Week’s 22nd season.
Green Bay Packer Aaron Rodgers was suited up in a special wetsuit and preparing to join a marine scientist in the waters off San Diego to tag blue sharks. Blue sharks happen to be one of those species that you want to watch out for because to them, you’re a snack. I paused to watch for a few seconds, but it was long enough for to get hooked, and BAM! the Discovery Channel reeled me in. I watched the entire episode. It was Aaron Rodgers, after all.
While Shark Week may pander to a reality TV-loving audience, viewers can learn cool facts about the world’s scariest fish. For instance, I learned that sharks come in all shapes and sizes—just like people. And puppies. The whale shark is the largest species, reaching up to 40 feet in length. Compare that to the dwarf lanternshark—the world’s smallest shark, which ranges between six and eight inches in length. It’s labeled with the word lantern because it is born with a built in light source that helps it find food. But here’s what’s really interesting. While it has teeth—about 3,000 of them—they’re tiny and would only serve to scratch or gum a human. The tiny dwarflantern fish has more than 50 teeth and, while I have no proof, I'll bet they could do some damage. Fortunately, they stick close to home, which is in the deep waters near Venezuela.
Shark Week has inspired kids to go into fields with names like in elachimorphology or selachimorphology. They both mean shark biologists, that's not nearly as impressive as a career with a name you can't pronounce.
When my friend Deb and her husband took a Lindblad expedition off the coast of Ireland, the resident selachimorphologist spotted a basking shark with a huge dorsal fin suitable for its 30+ foot size. The scientist leapt from the safety of the ship into a Zodiac landing craft to get a closer look. And perhaps to take a selfie. Deb watched in horror, thinking she was about to witness a re-enactment of Jaws. But like the whale shark, basking sharks have not developed a taste for human flesh, so everyone on board was relatively safe, provided the shark didn’t want to engage in a shark-equivalent game of bumper cars.
In that case, they were gonna need a bigger boat.
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