Are You Scared of Sharks?
My niece and I recently went to the New York Aquarium (one of my favorite places in the whole world!). When we visited the shark exhibit, she declared, at age 3, that sharks are terrifying and she is scared of them.
So, today, we're going to talk a little bit about sharks and then we're going to do a SHARK EXPERIMENT! Right from home! How cool is that?
But first, a few quick jawsome (get it?) shark facts. Whenever I talk about diving, I am always asked the same two questions:
1. Have you ever seen any sharks while diving?
2. Were they scary?
Sharks have a reputation for being the scariest, sassiest, rootinest-tootinest bad boys of the ocean. They're big. They're fast. They have lots of teeth. They can be ferocious. In science, they are called apex predators. That means they are at the absolute top of the food chain: other animals don't hunt and eat them (except for humans).
Many sharks are also considered keystone species. That means that a lot depends on them. Keystone species play an important role in an ecosystem (how everything works together). Think of a honey bee. It's a keystone species because it plays an important role in pollinating flowers. Without bees, flowers would be affected. Without flowers... you get the idea. Sharks are a keystone species for the ocean. Without them, the ocean just doesn't work like it should.
Sharks vs. Dinosaurs
Now, here, you really have to ask yourself a question. If you are scared of sharks (and I hope you're not!), do you love dinosaurs? Because EVERYONE loves dinosaurs. Did you see Jurassic Park? Those dinosaurs were seriously TRYING TO EAT EVERYONE IN THE MOVIE AND THEY WERE VERY, VERY SCARY, maybe even scareveriest (I made that up). Now, I have to say: I don't think Jurassic Park is a kid's movie. I also know that almost every kid I know over the age of 8 has seen it. So, I'm going to talk about it here. There were parts of Jurassic Park where I had to cover my eyes! While this was, perhaps, an unfair portrayal of dinosaurs (let's remember, lots of dinosaurs were herbivores! They only ate plants!), the point remains: everyone loves dinosaurs even though they are scary. People don't walk around saying "dinosaurs are so scary" or "I hate dinosaurs" or "it's so great dinosaurs are extinct." Instead, we are fascinated by their power, by their intelligence, their movements, and they way they lived. I'm not the only New Yorker who waited in a very long line to see the new Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History. Dinosaurs are awesome. But, the same things that we admire about dinosaurs are also true of sharks. The difference? You might, if you're really lucky, run into a shark in the ocean.
Sharks in Movies
Sharks are important movie stars. When they are in a movie, people pay attention. So, you probably know all about Bruce in Finding Nemo. Bruce was scary. And, he's not alone. Almost every time a shark is in a movie, it's there to scare you. Now, I hope you haven't seen Jaws. Wait a long time before you see it: it's really scary and definitely NOT a kid movie. But, you've heard the music from it. It's the duh-nah, duh-nah, duh-nah music that's used whenever you see a shark fin in the water. Movie and t.v. portrayals of sharks as scary have a lot to do with why we fear them (there are other reasons too, but for now, and for our experiment, I want you to think about how sharks are shown to us, not how they actually are in the ocean).
Why Oceans Need Sharks
Here's the thing: what is scariest about diving in the ocean is when I don't see any sharks. No sharks means an unhealthy ocean. Because sharks are apex predators, when the ocean is healthy, sharks help to keep the ecosystem in balance. They eat smaller prey, which keeps everything in check. They also help to move fish and other creatures around the ocean. You've probably learned in school about planting and rotating crops: you have to make sure that crops have time to grow and be healthy. In the same way, sea grasses and other ocean plants need time to regrow. Sharks help to move turtles and fish from one spot to another, making sure that ocean plants stay healthy. Sharks also move carbon through the water (mostly by eating dead fish on the ocean floor), which also helps the water to stay balanced and healthy.
You Thought I Forgot About that Experiment, Didn't You?
Okay, so back to our experiment. Scientists wanted to find out if music affects how you think about sharks. You can read all about their JAWSOME experiment here. It's called "Shark Tunes." And... you can participate in the experiment! At the bottom of the page, there are 3 videos. All 3 videos show the exact same footage of sharks. One video uses "Happy Dolphin" music. Another uses "Scary Shark" music. And the third uses no music at all.
Here's what I want you to do. Get 3 sheets of paper (or 1 sheet of paper divided into 3 parts). Then, I want you to watch each video. Before you move to the next video, write down (or draw) how you felt about the sharks. What did you see? What did you feel? Then, go to the next video. When you're finished, see if you reacted as the scientists predicted. Did the music make you feel a particular way? What do you think?
Back to My Niece
So, my niece loves the ocean (that's not a big surprise, right?). We spent time talking about sharks and how really, they are just big fish. We watched them swim for a while. They were pretty relaxed. She decided that she likes all fish: little ones, big ones, and even really big ones like sharks. Last week, she called me to tell me that Miss Frizzle said on the Magic School Bus that sharks aren't scary. But she wanted me to know that she already knew that!
Yes, Liz Loves Sharks. And also? Liz is a Shark Maid When She Is Not Writing
PS: Here I am diving with some of my shark friends at the New York Aquarium. See? No big deal. Or rather, a HUGE deal, because it was sooooooo exciting! (Not scary!). Why am I diving with sharks, you ask? Because their exhibit needs to be cleaned. So, here I am, being an underwater window washer. I'm basically a shark maid.