Shark Week is coming! Take a deep dive into science and fun during the Discovery Channel’s celebration of the most feared fish around. Shark Week provides thrills and chills along with an invitation to study marine life, geography, ecology, and conservation. The marathon of shark shows also provides an opportunity to do some scientific sleuthing and myth busting. Here are some ideas for creative things your kids can learn from Shark Week.
We look into space with a deep sense of wonder. We laud the world’s rainforests as the source of unique animals and potential medicinal cures. Why do we take for granted the wonders of our oceans? Indeed, it’s estimated that the world’s oceans may contain up to a million species, of which we landlubbers are familiar with about half.
Let’s narrow that down to elasmobranchs, the fish that have cartilaginous skeletons, rather than bones like us (or many other fish) and five or more gill slits on each side of their heads. This group includes sharks, rays and skates, encompassing an estimated 1,000 species.
Hmmm. Maybe we should just stick with the sharks. How many species can you name? There’s the fearsome Great White, of course, and then there’s Hammerhead. Maybe you’ve heard of Nurse Sharks, Whale Sharks and Zebra Sharks, but did you know there are more than 450 species of sharks?
Tweens can hone their shark identifying skills with this online game from the National Wildlife Fund. You can download and print shark photos and create a shark memory game to play offline.
Where in the world can you find sharks? Sharks swim in all of the Seven Seas (can you name them?). Several sharks can survive, at least for some time, in fresh water. It’s interesting to learn where different shark species live just for the sake of knowledge. Understanding where sharks live takes on a whole new meaning if you’re planning an ocean-side vacation. According to this shark finder, it looks like a west coast vacation is best if you want to avoid sharks this summer. Zoom out on the finder to get a worldwide view and zoom in to learn where on the east coast you might have a shark encounter.
Ecology and Conservation
Ecology is the study of the relationships of living things with each other and their environment. What happens when humans and sharks share a habitat? Which one should be more afraid of the other? The shark! Humans harm more sharks than the other way around. In fact, your top concerns on your beach vacation should be avoiding riptides, jellyfish, and sunburn. These are much more likely to harm you than an unprovoked shark. Of course, your exact location will help determine your level of risk—another good reason to know your geography.
Sharks play an important role in the ocean’s food web. People have a role in helping sharks maintain their place, which is not to say that we should offer ourselves up as a shark’s next meal. Instead, we should understand that our food choices affect sharks. It may be easy for you to pass on eating Shark Fin Soup, but this is a delicacy in some parts of the world. Yes, it really is made with shark fin, and it can sell for as much as $100 a bowl. In addition, people consume shark cartilage and oil in nutritional supplements because of unfounded rumors of their medicinal value. In truth, shark parts may contain dangerous neurotoxins. Don’t be a shark-eating human!
Our trash can also mess with marine ecosystems and endanger or kill sharks. Sharks have been found with high levels or pharmaceuticals in their blood and with license plates and even tires in their tummies. It’s important to properly dispose of garbage and be an environmental steward. If you’ve got the guts for it, check out this shark biologist as she examines the contents of a large Mako Shark’s stomach.
Be a myth buster. Separating fact from hype is an increasingly important skill in today’s world, so plan on doing some fact-finding research after those shocking shark shows. Case in point, a 2013 Shark Week special on Megalodons outraged the scientific community by suggesting that the prehistoric monster sharks were still swimming the planet.
If it makes your jaw drop or you make exclamations like, “That’s amazing!” or “Is that for real?” take a few minutes to seek out the truth.
You can also go the old-fashioned route and visit your local aquarium. It’s a great opportunity to talk with experts and observe sharks first-hand without worrying about sunburn or jellyfish stings.