Maybe it’s pop-culture, maybe it’s our primordial fear of monsters lurking in the deep, but sharks have gotten a pretty bad rap over the years.
Raise a fin if you’ve heard this one. . . A happy family takes the ferry out to a sleepy beach vacation town for some summer fun in the sun. Meanwhile, lurking below the waves, a giant school bus with teeth is just waiting to gobble them up like sunscreen flavored bon-bons the moment they venture into the water.
In popular imagination, sharks are either falling out of tornadoes or rising up from the murky depths — either way, our fear of sharks is keeping us from seeing them as the magnificent, but vulnerable species, that they are. So with Shark Week upon us, we are here to offer the antidote to all that bad press by sharing some of our favorite shark facts.
Baby sharks are called pups!
Baby sharks are adorable, and not just because they are called pups (although that does help). Some sharks like Blacktip reef sharks, which can be seen throughout the Marine National Monuments and National Wildlife Refuges of the Pacific Ocean, have relatively small litters of two — four pups, while Tiger sharks can have litters of 30–35 pups!
Have fish. Will travel.
Some sharks have very small home ranges. Blacktip reef sharks for instance, are homebodies. A study at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge found the blacktip reef shark’s home range was just .2 square miles, or about 130 acres.
Tiger sharks on the other hand love to roam. Long term research in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument has shown that Tiger sharks will regularly swim for hundreds of miles in search of food. Tiger sharks have even learned to hunt juvenile albatross in the lagoons near sea bird colonies. (Ok, that might be the stuff of nightmares.)
The shark is not a lonely hunter
Social aggregation may sound like a bad 90’s boy band, but in fact it describes when large groups of sharks come together. In fact, many sharks are social creatures who travel, hunt, and rest together. In Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument large groups — or schools — of pregnant Gray reef sharks have been observed coming together in shallow waters during the day and slowly swimming in circles* — we can only assume they are planning an uprising.
Sharks Need Veggies!
Ok. Not exactly. But in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument a study of fish populations found that algae served as the base of a complex food web supporting large predators like sharks at the top. The sharks in turn help maintain healthy fish populations, and are an indicator of a healthy stable marine ecosystem.
The waters of the Marine National Monuments and National Wildlife Refuges of the Pacific Ocean are important places where sharks and the marine ecosystems they rely on are protected, and where scientists can continue to study and understand these complex creatures. You can explore Palmyra Atoll, Papahānaumokuākea and and other protected remote islands by checking out these virtual tours.
* Taylor, L.R. (1993). Sharks of Hawaii: Their Biology and Cultural Significance. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 21–24.