While we all know Shark Week thanks to Discovery Channel programming, this year we're including an added focus: alerting beachgoers to sharks. We explore the history behind Shark Week, different beachgoer communication methods, and even list out some of our own favorite sharks.
What's Shark Week?
For 31 years, Discovery Channel has aired a series of prime time programming over a week to help dispel the fear associated with sharks. While watching people swim in cages with great whites and learning about new ocean technologies provides entertainment for nearly 30 million people, there is a real message Shark Week is meant to send this year.
Discovery has teamed up with Oceana, a non-profit focused on influencing specific policy to benefit the preservation and restoration of the world’s oceans, to help protect sharks from a global shark fin trade that harms as many as 73 million sharks each year. Oceana collaborates in various campaigns to raise money for the fight against this brutal and wasteful practice and to educated fans about the importance of sharks in maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem. Discovery will also be working with Ocean Conservancy again this year to help clean up beaches and inland waterways across the country to keep the homes of sharks and other marine life clean and habitable.
The Focus on Shark Conservation
The demand for shark fins is on the rise and it’s hurting the ocean ecosystem. National Geographic estimates that 100 million sharks are killed each year. The main cause of shark deaths? Illegal and inhumane shark finning. The process involves catching sharks and removing their fins for commercial value. Shark meat has no real nutritional value and is pretty toxic for humans with the high amounts of mercury. The fishing, hunting, and killing of sharks is really just for people’s own pleasure-- something that Discovery’s Shark Week wants to highlight as a major issue.
Cinematographer and shark expert Joe Romeiro has real concerns for shark endangerment. Romeiro can be seen in “Monster Mako: Perfect Predator” during Shark Week-- the mako shark being his main concern at the moment. The mako shark has been placed on the endangered species list and is going up for protection status in August at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
While we focus and celebrate sharks this week, Romeiro says to remember that three sharks are killed every second.
Effective Ways to Alert Beachgoers to Sharks
Are warning signs and flags really enough to alert beachgoers that a shark has been spotted in the area? Whether there are notices at the entrances or bright flags flying off lifeguard posts, in an emergency those tactics would not evacuate the water efficiently. The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy says if you spot a shark in the water, exit calmly (limit splashing), warn others around you, and report it to the nearest official or lifeguard who will instruct others to exit the water as well.
A few things to note when you plan to hit the beach include:
Awareness of purple flags. It’s a flag that flies to remind beachgoers that great white sharks frequent the area and are close to the shore. If there is a purple flag, chances are there is also a red on indicating the beach is closed.
If there are patrol boats watching the area or helicopters circling above, make note of them and glance at them every once and awhile. Either source would be the first to spot sharks in the water and alert lifeguards. The best way to avoid a shark attack is to be out of the water when a shark is nearby.
Some beaches may have call boxes on the beach or near entrances. In an emergency, these can provide a direct line to those who can provide the best aid. That could be a 9-1-1 call taker who could dispatch medics or a head lifeguard who could proceed with beach policies, such as evacuating the water and using bleeding control kits if there is an attack.
Alerting systems can be a quick way to let community members and visiting tourists know what is going on. Members can sign up with phone numbers for phone and text alerts, as well as their email addresses. Visiting tourists can have the opportunity to opt-in for text alerts. For example, the town of Truro, Massachusetts, uses a community mass alert system to warn people in the community about shark sightings and beach closures. Safety officials use a simple alert that targets over 900 recipients across text, email, voice and the Smart911 app. Check out one of their alerts:
ALERTruro: Shark sighting at Head of the Meadow beach closed for swimming until 11:45 am.
4 Shark Myths Debunked
- Myth: Sharks are hungry man-eaters looking for any chance to attack.
Fact: According to Oceana, sharks don’t hunt humans. Most "attacks" on humans are mistakes due to poor water visibility or are inquisitive bites. This is why there are so many more bites than fatalities.
- Myth: Sharks have no predators.
Fact: The greatest threat to sharks is humans. Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins. By killing sharks, humans also disrupt the ocean ecosystem.
- Myth: Sharks are afraid of dolphins.
Fact: Just because you can see dolphins in the water, it doesn’t mean it is “safe” to swim. According to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Center, sharks and dolphins often cruise the same waters since they feed on similar prey. They may even feed on the same school of fish! Dolphins may also prey on smaller sharks just as sharks may prey on smaller dolphins.
- Myth: Sharks have to keep swimming.
Fact: For most shark species, this is not true. Sharks can breathe through two methods, ram ventilation and buccal pumping. The latter method uses muscles in the mouth to pull liquid over the gills, allowing sharks to rest on the seafloor.
Some of Our Favorite Sharks to Track
Miss Costa, a 12’, 5” great white shark that hangs around between Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, is one shark we like to check in on. One of our favorite things about her is that she has her own Twitter account! Miss Costa was tagged in September 2016 in Nantucket and has returned every year. She’s a busy lady and likes to travel, often visiting spots up and down the East Coast.
Miss May, a 10’, 2” great white shark, hangs around Cape Cod. She favors the warmer Florida water but likes the make a trip up the coast every once in a while. She recently closed a beach Truro, Massachusetts. We track our friends using Ocearch. Are there any near you?
Want to learn more about how to get your community alerts up and running for Shark Week and beyond?
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