Living down “Jaws”: Shark Week and beyond

Posted by at 2:38AM

You may have heard that this week is Stanford Shark Week, especially if you’ve been frequenting Y2E2 or Herrin Hall.  If anyone had told me, as a high school senior applying to college, that Stanford had a week of events dedicated just to sharks, I might have taken my chances and skipped applying to those 11 other universities.  This week celebrates the passing of the CA Shark Fin Ban AB 376, which came into effect this January 1st.  California was the last of the West Coast states to ban the sale and possession of shark fins, hopefully closing the U.S. ports to the trade.  The author of the bill, Paul Fong, will be speaking at Stanford on Thursday at 6pm, and there will be additional lectures from superstar biologist Barbara Block on Wednesday, as well as film screenings on Tuesday and Friday.

Really, it’s about time sharks got some positive publicity.  They are more than simply giant toothy fish–in fact, they are an entirely different branch on the evolutionary tree, closely related to rays, skates, and the inexplicably adorable ratfish (tell me you don’t love that face!), but evolutionarily speaking are about as closely related to the bony, scaly fishes we all know as us humans are to our close cousins the lizards.  Sharks have not only some of the most impressive but also the most ancient jaws in the animal kingdom–they are the oldest creatures with jaws alive today, and there are over 300 species found in both freshwater and saltwater.  There is even a shark that lives off the coast of Greenland (creatively titled the Greenland Shark) that has on at least one occasion eaten a reindeer.  In addition to their famous eating abilities, some sharks can leap out of the water like whales, sense a millionth of a volt of electricity in water, and give birth to live baby sharks, which are called pups.

Why is it s difficult for us to appreciate sharks in the way that we admire other top predators like polar bears and wolves and birds of prey?  Do we have affection for only predators with feathers or fur?  I’m sure most reasonable people would agree that harvesting shark fins for soup is cruel.  But sharks are hardly cause for concern for most of us. They should be.  They should be a priority not just because they are endangered and useful for balancing the ecosystem but because they are unique and beautiful in and of themselves.  We don’t want the sharks to disappear before we can get the Jaws theme out of our heads.





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