Sharks Have an Af-FIN-ity for Staying Fully Submerged

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 the sharks living at The Maritime Aquarium.

Shark Fins

It’s a classic moment in “Jaws” or any Hollywood film in which a blood-thirsty shark is the antagonist:  a tall dorsal fin cuts through the water surface, closing quickly on the panicked doomed victim.

Scary and dramatic, but not factual.

Sharks usually don’t swim with their dorsal fin exposed. Here are a few reasons why:

•  They tend to not swim at the surface. Most sharks stay in the mid-water column or down below. That’s where their food is.  It’s safer for them down there too.

•  When they do attack prey at the surface, it’s usually in a surprise vertical attack from below, NOT a prolonged race in from the side. Exposing your dorsal fin would tip off your victim. (Think about interviews with people bitten by sharks. Rarely do they say they saw it coming.)

•  Sticking the dorsal fin out of the water means it can’t serve its important purpose. Sharks (and many other fish, and dolphins and porpoises too) use their dorsal fin for stability. It doesn’t do any good when it’s not in the water.

Oh, sure, there always are exceptions.  Sharks do occasionally come up to check things out at the surface. Basking sharks, the second-largest species, commonly hang at the surface to filter feed. And a shark’s dorsal fin will be exposed if the shark chases its prey into the shallows.

Here are other exceptions: the sand tiger sharks in The Maritime Aquarium’s “Ocean Beyond the Sound” exhibit. Frequently, one of the sand tigers will be swimming at the surface, exposing its dorsal fin. Two likely reasons: 1) the sharks are fed at the surface, from above; and 2) it’s easier to swim there, above the obstacles – the rockwork, kelp and other animals – in the exhibit.

See this for yourself by joining in a “Behind-the-Scenes Tour,” offered at 8:15 a.m. this Saturday – and the third Saturday of every month. Participants go above the shark tank, and also visit the “fish kitchen” and other locations, as they learn how the Aquarium’s animal-husbandry staff meets the various needs of our marine animals.

One more thing about shark fins:  millions of sharks die each year from shark finning to meet the demand for shark-fin soup, an Asian “delicacy.” Sharks are caught, have their fins cut off and are thrown back into the sea to sink and die a slow ugly death. We encourage you to support organizations actively working to stop this barbaric and unsustainable practice. 

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