It was a wild March day in 1987 when my fiancé Don and I decided to take our dog for a walk on the beach. We co-owned the dog (a show-quality German shepherd who lived with Don’s parents), and would frequently take him for long hikes. This time, our destination was Jones Beach, a barrier island off the southern edge of Long Island. The prevailing wind was blowing from the south, and the waves were high and dark, but the air was relatively warm. I decided to go into the water up to my knees, and the dog joined me.
We splashed around a bit, and the dog was chasing rocks that I tossed into the shallows, when he suddenly left my side, barking. There, in barely 12 inches of water, was a shark! Don was afraid that the dog might be bitten (I am not sure what he thought might happen to me!), so he called the dog out of the water, and watched as I lifted a slick gray three-foot-long dogfish out of the water. The poor thing was alive, but in sad shape. Resisting the opportunity to examine it up close was impossible. Its unblinking yellow/gray eyes stared back at me. Its skin, like sandpaper, rubbed roughly against my hands. Its teeth!! Rows of oblique teeth! But the shark only stared, so I went out as deep as I dared, and tossed it back into the water. This was my closest shark experience, and though I have eaten shark, I have not been so close to a live shark since then...at least not without the towering glass wall of an aquarium tank between us.
The dogfish is the most common shark in our area, but they are shy, and small, and rarely seen in swimming areas. The dogfish is not an attack shark. They are familiar to fishermen, but are not as impressive as their much larger cousin, the great white of Jaws fame. The dogfish schools with others of the same species, size and gender. Its young are born live; the egg develops inside the mother’s body (very graphic photos here). The young of the dogfish are called “pups.”
The diet of the dogfish includes small crustaceans, jellies and ctenophores, and many small commercially-valued fish, such as herring. The dogfish itself, like many sharks, is eaten around the world. Sharks are boneless fish, with cartilage where the bones should be. Their teeth, which come in rows or families, pop up like a deck of playing cards being thumbed, and are lost and replaced by the next one about once a week. The skin of the shark is typically covered with “denticles” which are tooth like under magnification.
But the dogfish is only one of about 375 species of shark, which vary in size, shape and behavior from the whale shark to the hammerhead shark, to the cookie cutter shark. The spined pygmy shark, a relative of the dogfish, may be the smallest shark. And check out the relatives of the sharks—skates and rays!
Aside from the exaggerated graphic depiction of shark attacks in books (and films) like Jaws, there is little literature with true-to-life descriptions of sharks. Just a bit of looking brings us to some wonderful non-fiction books about sharks and their kin, the skates and rays. Perhaps the work of the world’s foremost expert on sharks, Dr. Eugenie Clark, will help to bring the world of the shark alive for you. Click here to hear a short radio program about Dr. Clark (Real Player required). Don’t forget to visit Dr. Clark’s homepage. A link includes some books, articles and more about Dr. Clark. My personal favorites are Fish Watching with Eugenie Clark and the out-of-print Lady with a Spear. The former is a children’s biography, the later is the earliest biography of Dr. Clark, and does not include some of her greater discoveries. I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Dr. Clark about 15 years ago. She is retired now, but National Geographic Magazine back issues have articles by Dr. Clark as well, and are readily available in libraries. Seek them out for the photos! The best is the last: 1992 (Dec) Whale Sharks: Gentle Monsters of the Deep. See also NG’s Creature Feature online.
There are quite a few books for shark-crazed youngsters. The youngest might enjoy Sharkabet: A Sea of Sharks from A to Z. The great nature illustrator Jim Arnosky wrote All About Sharks. Seymour Simon, known for his photo essays, tackles Sharks in a book of that name.
Older students basically have two choices: Scientific books which often play down the very real phenomenon of shark attacks, or real horror stories so graphic that if they were films they’d be rated R. There are a few balanced books, including Cousteau’s Great White, and, believe it or not, Peter Benchley’s Shark Life.
Since sharks are eaten worldwide, I thought I’d include links to a few recipes:
Oven Fried Shark
Baby Shark Fry
4 Recipes for Mako
Want to see sharks? Try a shark-based vacation (I have not done this...proceed with caution, or just dream):
Don't forget to stay in the shark cage!
New Jersey Scuba Diver (great site for all east coasters!)
Sharks from Enchanted Learning
Dr. Clark’s Homepage
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