Summer always makes me think of hot temps and the beach. To me, it smells like ice cream and chlorine and the anticipation of vacation. The beach almost automatically leads me to think about sharks. Then, a familiar song begins to play in my head. You know the one. Sharks are rulers of the deep ocean waters. They are mysterious, ancient and a little bit scary. July is Shark Awareness Month. This is a great time to bring the spotlight onto these incredible creatures. Let’s share what we know, explore what we don’t know and have some fun while we’re at it.
July is for the sharks
Officially, Shark Awareness Day is July 14, The month of July is a larger and longer opportunity to explore all there is to know about sharks. Generally, it seems that people’s immediate reaction to sharks is typically one of fear. Movie depictions of sharks and media information comes rife with images of terrifying shark attacks. So, sharks have a pretty dangerous rep out there in the ocean. In all fairness, it’s not like we hear stories about brutal dolphin or sea cow attacks… But the truth is, you have a higher likelihood of being struck by lightening than being attacked by a shark. Really though, I’d rather take neither option. Hard pass all around.
Why shark awareness matters
There are hordes of movies and TV shows about killer sharks. One of the most iconic, of course, remains JAWS and its subsequent sequels. It was released in the summer of 1975 and became a cultural sensation almost immediately. Sharks have long existed in folklore and have fascinated people for generations and across cultures. The misconception that they are some kind of vicious man-eating monster is an important stereotype to challenge. Shark awareness month is a time to focus on the array of qualities attributed to sharks, and do the work to dismantle their predatory image.
Sharks: Friend or foe
How can we change people’s perception of sharks? One of the most unfortunate effects of the release of JAWS was the sensationalized “brutality” of sharks, especially the great white shark. An astonishing 100 million sharks are killed each year mainly because people fear them. Sharks are also killed for their fins and for meat. Commercial fishing and boating are responsible for the enormous numbers of sharks killed each year across the globe.
Raising awareness for sharks is critical in order to keep sharks from extinction. According to Sharks World, “among the approximately 470 species of sharks, 2.4 percent are Critically Endangered, 3.2 percent are Endangered, 10.3 percent are Vulnerable, and 14.4 percent are Near Threatened”. The image that sharks have in popular culture is that they are scary and thus there is a general acceptance to their eradication. An overall 71% decrease in population since 1970, however, is an alarming trend to observe, scary creature or not.
All creatures serve a purpose on the planet. Sharks, for instance, keep the oceans in check by bringing balance to the ecosystem as the largest predator in the world’s waters. Before we accept complacency due to our fear of sharp teeth, remember how everyone and everything on the planet needs one another. Sharks are misunderstood “bad guys” and it is just as important to raise awareness not just for the cuddliest of creatures.
Shark awareness history
One of my son’s favorite animals happens to be sharks. I mean, they’re awesome, so why not? Lots of us have a favorite shark. Mine are the hammerhead shark and the goblin shark. The goblin shark is so hideous that someone has to love it. Poor thing. Everyone deserves love. One of the most important things to understand things we fear is to learn as much as we can. I might still recoil in horror when seaweed touches my leg at the beach while swimming, but hey, I’ll still know more about sharks!
Awareness for sharks needs context. In order to understand our existing sharks, we have to start at the beginning. Sharks are ancient creatures. The earliest shark fossils can be dated back as far as 450 million years. Sharks have existed on the earth longer than the dinosaurs who didn’t appear until 230 million years ago. Wild, since most of the time, I think of dinosaurs as the barometer for ancient creatures. Since much of a shark’s skeleton is comprised of cartilage, scientists have mainly uncovered fossilized shark teeth and in some cases, fossilized skin, or scales.
Over the span of 439 million years, the world has experienced five mass extinctions of life. With each large scale extinction, certain species survive by extreme adaptation and adjustments. Sharks, for example, have demonstrated their resilience by surviving all five extinction periods. Not every species has survived, of course. One of my favorite extinct prehistoric sharks is the Megalodon. Megalodon is considered to be the biggest fish, and arguably the biggest animals to have ever lived. For context, a great white shark, which is a huge animal and weighs between 1,500 and 4,000 lbs. Megalodons were believed to have weighed between 66,000 and 143,000 lbs. Yikes. But also, awesome.
Raising awareness through activities
Exploring information about sharks is a great way to encourage kids to be less afraid and to be more excited about learning something new about these magnificent creatures! The more we know, the more awareness we open ourselves up to about sharks. We’ll start with these shark themed learning activities you can do together with your children this summer. They feature a variety of shark fun, ELA and math skills.
- Sharks KWL Chart
- Label the Shark
- Feed the Shark Game: Short A
- Feed the Shark Game: Short E
- Feed the Shark Game: Short I
- Feed the Shark Game: Short O
- Feed the Shark Game: Short U
- Hungry Sharks Comparing Numbers
- Hungry Sharks Comparing Fractions
After you’ve spent some time practicing your necessary learning skills, dive into some great educational shark resources too! Some of my favorites for information on sharks are from sources such as the following:
- NOAA Fisheries
- National Geographic
- National Geographic for Kids
- Shark Guardian
- Sharks World (prehistoric sharks)
Sharks are scary. They are also super cool. They might even be scary cool. No matter how you feel about them, they are a fascinating animal to learn about. With so many species, living and extinct, the possibilities for exploring these creatures are endless.
Let us know in the comments what your favorite shark is! And please share any awesome sources you and your family might enjoy. Happy summer shark friends!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.