Then there were the sharks. I mean, I always thought they were cool, but they didn't tug at my heart like some of the other animals. I'm sure I had the same pre-conceived ideas that most guests have when they think about sharks. Stop for a minute, and think about what comes to mind when you hear the word “Shark”. Scary? Menacing? Mysterious? Danger? It's easy to think those things, given what we are usually told about them on television and movies.
The truth is, once I got to know more about sharks, different words started coming to my mind. Awesome. Important. Beautiful. And, unfortunately, Misunderstood. There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding sharks, but there are also so many amazing facts about them that it's hard not to like sharks a whole lot more once you get to know them too. Here are a few of my favorites:
Most people immediately think of teeth when they think about sharks. While looking at their rows of teeth may be impressive, there is so much more to the story. Each species of shark has a different shaped tooth depending on their diet. Their teeth can be broad and serrated like a knife for seizing and cutting, or long and sharp like fork tines for catching smaller prey. Because of their biting force, they often lose teeth while feeding. Some species of sharks can lose and replace up to 30,000 teeth in their lifetime!
Because they are the “scavengers of the sea”, a shark's senses are well adapted for honing in on prey that is weak, sick, or injured. They have an incredible sense of hearing, and a keen sense of smell, and their eyes are especially adapted for seeing in low light. They have pits on the underside of their snouts called Ampullae of Lorenzini. These sensory pits help the shark sense electrical currents from other animals, and allow them to know exactly when to bite down. They also have a lateral line, which is an adaptation to help them sense vibrations in the water.
Sharks eat far less than most people imagine. Cold-blooded animals have a much lower metabolism than warm-blooded animals. In fact, in a zoological environment like SeaWorld, a shark eats about 1-10% of its total body weight each week. Studies done on wild sharks show that they have similar food intakes.
Over the years, people have used sharks for food, medicines, and vitamins; shark teeth for weapons and jewelry; and shark skin for sandpaper. But today some shark populations are on the brink of extinction. Shark meat is a popular food (with many sharks being caught only for human consumption of their fins). And thousands of sharks are caught by accident, snagged in nets set out to catch other kinds of fish.
Today, I can honestly say that sharks are probably my most favorite animals to talk about. This is why I am very excited that during the month of July, SeaWorld San Antonio will be celebrating sharks! This celebration will include shark talks and activities at our Sharks/Coral Reef exhibit, and each morning, we will be screening our "Saving a Species-The Shark Story" in Sea Star Theater. This 2-D movie delves into the mysteries of these fascinating creatures. You will learn about the variety of shark species, their amazing adaptations, and find out what is being done to protect and preserve sharks worldwide.
Learn more about sharks with our online Sharks Animal Info Book.
Are you a teacher looking for ways to bring sharks to your students? Check out our Shark Teacher Guide.
We are very thrilled to be able to share these stories with you, and we hope to see you this month!