It’s “Shark Week.” Although the original intent of “Shark Week” was to share helpful educational information about sharks, some of the programming seems to have slipped toward the overhyped and dramatic and scary (and, in the case of Sunday night’s big kickoff, fictional and silly).
We’ll use the themed week to offer some not-so-terrorizing – and true – insights into our local sharks and the sharks living at The Maritime Aquarium.
Shark jaws are equipped with rows and rows of teeth. If a tooth is lost, the tooth behind it rotates forward.
Actually, we should say “When a tooth is lost …,” not “if.” Sharks commonly lose teeth.
We humans get only two chances with our teeth: our “baby” teeth and then our adult teeth. Lose one of your adult teeth and you’re in for some cosmetic dental work because ain’t nothin’ going to replace it otherwise.
Sharks, however, have adapted over the millions of years to have a lifetime supply. We’ve seen one estimate of up to 30,000 teeth. This conveyor belt of teeth ensures that a shark always has a fresh and effective bite.
(Note that we didn’t say that this adaptation ensures that a shark always has a sharp bite. There are some 400 species of sharks and not all of them have the serrated triangular teeth of a great white or the thin jagged teeth of sand tiger sharks. Some species, like our local dogfish sharks, have flatter teeth that look more like molars – perfect for crushing their preferred prey of crabs and lobsters.)
The sand tiger sharks that live in The Maritime Aquarium live a pretty comfortable life and don’t have the dental challenge of meals flailing and struggling and fighting in their mouths. But even they regularly lose teeth. It’s how their jaws are naturally programmed.
The Maritime Aquarium’s volunteer dive team goes in with the sharks on most Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. You may see them at the end of their dives, down at the bottom of the “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit, picking things up. They’re collecting souvenir teeth.
(Speaking of shark teeth, a shark’s entire body is covered in teeth of sorts called dermal denticles. Shark teeth and shark dermal denticles are believed to have the same evolutionary origin. Come feel shark skin when you touch live sharks at The Maritime Aquarium’s Shark & Ray Touch Pool.)
The Maritime Aquarium is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to educate visitors about – and to create stewards for – Long Island Sound. It accomplishes this by allowing visitors to get close to more than 250 species native to the Sound and its watershed, including sharks, seals, sea turtles, river otters, jellyfish and other animals. One of the top places for family fun in Connecticut, the Aquarium also features hands-on educational programs and displays, public study cruises out onto the Sound, and Connecticut’s largest IMAX movie theater, with a screen that’s six stories high.