In today’s post, Logan will be talking about this year’s Shark Week program that aired on the Discovery Channel July 23-30.
Well guys, yet another Shark Week is in the books and let me tell you that it did not disappoint! I am hoping that you had the opportunity to see some of it so what I’ll be talking about is vaguely familiar. If not, I’ll be highlighting some of the main objectives that researchers aimed to achieve over the course of the week and the various shark species that were examined.
1) THE BIG QUESTION: Is Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, faster than a reef, hammerhead, or great white shark!?
The answer is yes. . . and no. While he technically beat a reef shark in a 100m race according to the simulations, he could not compare to larger species including the hammerhead or great white, let alone a mako which is the fastest shark in the ocean. He is fast, but these animals he swam against have been fine-tuned by evolution to dominate the underwater world. While Phelps put on an impressive performance against a shark that is not known for speed, these sharks are more than capable of extreme bursts of speed that no human, or superhuman in Phelps’ case, could ever contend with.
2) THE OTHER BIG QUESTION: Did Michael Phelps actually race these sharks side-by-side for 100m?
No. Much to the disappointment of viewers, Phelps never shared the water with a great white except when he went cage diving. But let’s be real for a second, he’s the most decorated Olympian for a reason. . . he’s smart. Swimming in the same water as one of the top apex predators of the ocean as an inexperienced shark diver is likely not wise. In addition to it probably not being the safest course of action, there is little to no evidence to show that great whites, or any species for that matter, are capable of understanding and following the “Ready, Set, Go!” procedure for a 100m race. All in all, I wasn’t surprised but I apologize to those of you who were disappointed.
3) Was there a tribute to Rob Stewart?
For those of you who don’t know Rob Stewart, he was a Canadian activist, conservationist and filmmaker who dedicated his life to protecting sharks and exposing their exploitation. You can read more about him and his recent passing in my post from earlier this year here. Daily Planet did a brief 2-3 minute tribute to him in the middle of their episode during this year’s shark week and they dedicated the episode Lair of the Sawfish to him as he died during a dive where he was getting footage of sawfish. I don’t think they did enough, plain and simple. I believe they didn’t emphasize his impact on the world in a powerful enough manner, nor did they air Sharkwater during the week, which is one of the most impactful films I’ve ever seen. It seemed as though they brushed off the death of a truly influential individual who quite literally gave his life to protect the animals that Shark Week focuses on each year. I don’t believe it was intentional and maybe I was expecting more, but I think he deserves a lot more recognition.
4) California has been a hotspot for shark attacks, especially in recent years, but why?
Well, as the researchers concluded, there are two reasons. The first being that with abundant sea lion populations in small coves or on islands such as San Miguel, sharks are naturally drawn closer to beaches for their preferred prey items. These prey populations are so inviting since they act as much needed ‘rest stops’ where these sharks can refuel during what can be several thousand-mile long migrations. Secondly, California is North of Guadalupe, an extremely popular area for great whites and where some of the biggest great whites ever have been caught on camera. However, since this island is so popular, especially for large adult great whites, it can be tough for younger, smaller sharks to join the population. In addition, because they are all fighting for the same food source, there is a time when the carrying capacity of Guadalupe will be reached and sharks will be forced to move on when there is simply not enough food to go around. This may be the second reason. Sharks who are unable to compete in Guadalupe move up the coast to other sea lion populations which puts them in direct proximity to popular beaches and since these whites are hungry, a surfer and a seal may look too similar not to bite.
5) What are F.A.D.s and how do they impact sharks?
F.A.D.s or “Fish Aggregating Devices” are introduced structures that create a new home for a variety of species and can form artificial reefs. They can be a wide variety of objects including shipwrecks, floating logs/trees and oil platforms. This can be helpful to our oceans as these structures now provide a new foundation for life where struggling species may find new refuge. It was shown that even if the F.A.D. is floating and moving in a current that could carry it hundreds of miles, the same shark can be found likely within the same area as this foreign device is now of interest to it. The problem, however, comes from this behaviour of sharks. If fisherman know sharks can be found near these devices, they can either hunt sharks at known hotspots or deploy their own F.A.D.s in hopes of luring in sharks and catching them for fins or for sport.
6) Why are great whites, makos, and porbeagles such unique sharks?
A really interesting episode this shark week was the examining of great whites, makos, and porbeagles in the Northern Atlantic off the coast of Cape Cod. They are unique because they are endothermic, meaning they produce heat from their muscles, as opposed to ectothermic where their body temperature is determined by and closely matches the water around them and may often rely on heat from the sun to warm their bodies. This means these species are capable of hunting and living in colder oceans, such as the Northern Atlantic, where species like the whale shark and hammerhead cannot survive. Using thermal cameras, the videographers got footage of just how warm these animals actually get during their bursts of speed, and after seeing the footage, these animals were glowing red hot.
7) What is the “Isle of Jaws” and why is it such a hotspot for great whites?
Off coast of Australia, there is an island named the “Isle of Jaws’ due to it’s unusual number of great whites and researchers have set out to determine why. Similar to previous research there, all sharks identified there are male which yet again poses the question. . .why? After attaching a camera to a white shark dorsal fin, they saw that these group of males, who are typically solitary hunters, get into close contact with one another. Andy Casagrande gets in the water and captures these close encounters with one another, and captures footage of two individuals swimming in what appears to be ‘synchronized formation’. These individuals also appear to have nearly identical markings on their caudal fins. Could they be brothers who stick together through juvenile years, or is it just a coincidence? But soon after a third shark with the same markings also appeared. Could this be an example of younger siblings hunting collaboratively in an effort to promote growth as well as protecting one another? Family bonding and living side-by-side, not as solitary individuals as we once thought but rather hunting and living collectively. This could be an incredible breakthrough for shark research and our knowledge on white shark development.
8) How to safely protect sharks and people at beaches?
Sharks are dangerous. But our attempts to keep them away from public beaches do a lot more harm to them than they do good for us. Brazil has a new method of keeping sharks away from their beaches. Instead of putting of drum-lines or ‘shark-proof’ nets to keep sharks out of public beaches, their local shark expert relocates the bigger sharks miles away in deeper water or in unpopulated areas. This has caused their shark attack numbers to drop drastically. The same principle was then applied to Australia, except they cannot ‘leapfrog’ the sharks migratory route in Australia because too many converging currents so they had to release it in deep ocean currents. They tagged and relocated a large tiger shark miles offshore and the data from the tag showed that it did in fact work. The shark did not return to the beach that it was caught which gave promising news. This means Australia may have a solution to public safety instead of the barbaric methods that are currently in place.
That’s it for the Q&A guys! I’ll leave you guys with a short conclusion. Continue to educate yourself about these animals. It is natural to fear them but it should be equally natural to love them. Paul De Gelder, former Australian Army Paratrooper, Navy Clearance Diver, and shark attack survivor said this during Shark Week: “What’s the point in killing something just because you can’t control it.” He couldn’t be more right. We don’t have the right to kill these animals because they don’t live the way we want them to live. Thanks for reading, and I hope you learned a bit more on sharks and why they are such fascinating and beautiful animals. And just remember:
Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks. – Sylvia Earle