I have to admit, I am in love with Shark Week! I watch it every year and I always learn something new about sharks. I have been fascinated by animals, fish, insects and anything else I could collect, look at or read about since I was a child. Shark Week feeds my need for information about sharks in an easy way (TV). But when it is over I find myself wanting to know more about these amazing cartilaginous fish. This is what inspired me to write this and I hope that you too can visit these sites and learn even more about sharks.
For those of you who know Shark Week it needs no introduction but if you don’t know Shark Week then let me be the first to introduce you to it! Shark Week happens every year on Discovery Channel at the end of July or the beginning of August and began in July of 1987. Coincidentally that is the same year that Jaws: The Revenge was released, the third film in the Jaws series. Shark Week has been viewed by millions of people each year. This year the Discovery Channel promoted it using the phrase, “Happy Shark Week!” which is appropriate since some people regard Shark Week as a holiday. It is an entire week of television programming devoted entirely to sharks. The amazing, beautiful and somewhat frightening fish.
Most people can’t help but be fascinated by these wonderful creatures. But one thing to remember about sharks is that they are not mindless eating machines. Shark are a very important part of our marine ecosystem. In their role as apex predators, sharks are at the top of the food chain and when an apex predator disappears it causes a cascade of changes within the ecosystem. Predator prey dynamics, plant ecology and even animal behavior can all change as a result of a large change to an ecosystem. Everything is inter-related and when one things changes it effects everything.
One of the best examples of the effect that an apex predator can have within an ecosystem is the Gray Wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Gray Wolves were at one time an apex predator within Yellowstone however their numbers dwindled due the predator elimination program of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They were ultimately wiped out of the area by 1926. In 1995 Gray Wolves were reintroduced to the park and because of that reintroduction many changes occurred.
The population of Elk, the primary prey of the wolves, went down and therefore allowed some areas to be relieved of constant grazing. These areas began to sprout willows and aspens which in turn created habitat for beavers and other animals. The wolf kills have also become a source of food for scavenging animals such as birds and even for Grizzly Bears. The bears use the kills as an additional food source before hibernation.
All of these changes occurred simply by reintroducing the natural apex predator to the region. This highlights the the importance that an apex predator such as the shark can have on the ecosystem.
The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 was passed to protect sharks from the practice of shark finning (where the fins of the shark are cut off while it is still alive and the body of the shark is thrown back into the water). This practice was banned in 2000 but this piece of legislation helps to close the loopholes that made it possible for this practice to continue. Discovery Channel also has shark conservationist, Sonja Fordham blog and answer questions about shark conservation. Here is one of her blogs about the new rules from the National Marine Fisheries Service that took effect this summer.
There are around 100 species of sharks found within the water surrounding the United States. These sharks, like most sharks around the world, are declining in numbers. If you want to learn more about the status of the sharks around the U.S. read White Paper: The Status of Shark in the United States.
You might be asking how you can get involved in shark conservation. There are so many organizations that are involved in this important task some of them include Shark Alliance, Shark Safe Network and Shark Trust. There are also programs like the one at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Saving White Sharks. Also, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the only aquariums able to keep White Sharks in captivity.
Just some of the favorite shows played during Shark Week highlight the Great White. The show entitled Air Jaws shows these fish hunting in South Africa at an island named Seal Island. The environment surround the island is unique, the ocean floor goes from being very shallow near the island to being very deep in a short distance. This allows the sharks to stalk and perform amazing surprise attacks. You really have to see it to believe it so here is a clip from the show on Discovery Channel, Air Jaws. So the big question is where do you find information about sharks once Shark Week is over?
There are tons of resources out there about sharks. Did you know that there are about 400 species of shark? NOVA has a wonderful site that has a lot of information about 30 different families of sharks. You can learn more about the anatomy (both external and internal) at a site created by the Canadian Shark Research Laboratory.
These are only a few places that you can find information about sharks but we hope that this eases the end of Shark Week for you! We also have included some fun shark related web activities.
Happy Shark Reading!
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