As a surfer and nature lover, I spend a lot of time thinking about sharks. I also read about them, talk about them, and blog about them. As a result, people send me lots of shark “bites” – news items, factoids, movies, etc. So, to wrap up a fantastic week of sharks, I thought it would be fun to geek out on some of my favorite shark bites from the year. Be warned – if you are squeamish you may want to skip the first two bites.
Wobbegongs may have the best name of any shark. They are also pretty tough. They hide on the bottom of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and ambush their prey. Check out these amazing pictures of a wobbegong snacking on its neighbors – swallowing them whole. That’s quite a predator! I think I’d keep my feet off the bottom of that reef.
Mysterious Disappearing Aquarium Animals
Should you keep sharks and octopi in an aquarium together? You’ve probably already guessed the answer.
Most Misunderstood Shark of the Year Award Goes To:
The large but harmless basking sharks of Cape Cod made news this summer as they showed up in all kinds of interesting places. First, we saw one nearly stranded in the Pocasset River, scaring children. Then we had the infamous kayak-following shark of Nauset Beach. While these sharks pose no threat to people, they are quite big and they gave us some thrills this summer. As my surfing buddy Jonathan Lewis put it: “We’ve had the Summer of Love, the Summer of ’69, and now we’re having the Summer of the Basking Shark (aka The Story of the Dude Who Just Wanted to Vacation on Cape Cod … But Everywhere He Went People Kept Freaking Out Because, You Know, He Was Actually a Pretty Big Shark).”
Great whites have certainly been in the news this summer. WBUR summed up the situation well, with this excellent blog about the complicated connections among white sharks, seals, and tourists on Cape Cod. In short, researchers are learning about the feeding and roaming habits of our top predators so that we can make sure to clear out of the water when they get near our favorite swimming beaches. Scientists are tagging white sharks with “pingers” that can be picked up by underwater acoustic receivers, so we can keep track of their movements. The problem, though, is that we don’t have enough receivers in the water to cover all our beaches. Or, as WBUR colorfully put it “We’re gonna need a bigger acoustic array.”
The Shark You’ve Probably Never Heard of but Really Should Know About
And, finally, one of my favorite boneless fish: the very large (up to 21 feet), and very mysterious Greenland shark. These sharks live at the frigid bottom of the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans, and are quite lethargic when observed – so lethargic that they are in a family called “sleeper sharks.” They have one of the most pathetic sounding scientific names I’ve ever heard – Somnius microcephalus. Now, my command of Latin is minimal, but I think that means “sleepy little-brain” or something similar. Ouch.
In contradiction to their unfortunate “branding,” researchers have found all kinds of fast moving animals in Greenland sharks’ stomachs, like salmon, rays, and seals – with evidence indicating these animals were caught alive. Even more mind-boggling, they also eat reindeer – earning them the moniker “Canada’s crocodile”.
This prodigious predation is all the more impressive given that many, if not most, of the Greenland sharks have parasitic copepods on their eyeballs, rendering them blind. That is one tough shark, to make a living under those conditions.
Check out this video by Jonathon Bird of his Greenland shark encounter in the St. Lawrence River, where these Arctic sharks visit in the summer months. (If you want to get straight to the action, skip to the 6 minute mark).
One last fun tidbit about Greenland and other sleeper sharks – they have been observed swimming in fresh water, and there is some speculation that they may be the real Loch Ness monster.
There are so many great shark stories in the world, and these are just a few of my favorites. What are yours?