Since this week marks Discovery Channel’s 27th annual celebration of Shark Week, I thought it was a great time to discuss why sharks probably make some of the best movie monsters.
10. Sharks barely need sleep. Even Freddy Krueger needs more rest than these guys. It was once thought that sharks had to constantly move in order to keep the water flowing over their gills. In fact, they tend to have active and restful periods and some species such as the nurse shark have spiracles which help move the water over the gills during restful periods.
9. Bull sharks are adaptable to salt water and fresh water. There have been cases of bull sharks being found as far up as Illinois swimming in the Mississippi River. Like any horror film monster, there is a sense of never feeling quite safe. This makes great fodder for films such as Swamp Shark (TV movie 2011).
8. Rows and rows of replaceable teeth. Jason has his machete, Freddy his glove, and Candyman his hook but even they only get one. Some sharks are thought to shed upwards of 30,000 teeth in a lifetime. Their teeth contain fluoride and are among the healthiest teeth in the animal kingdom. Kangaroos, elephants, and manatees are the only mammals that are polyphyodont (shed their teeth continuously). Some sharks have teeth that cut, shred, or rip. Sharks such as the great white and tiger have wider heads which gives them the bite power to chomp through turtle shells.
7. They swim faster than humans. The short fin mako is the fastest shark on record. It typically averages around 20mph but there is record of faster bursts. This might not sound fast compared to land standards, but consider that the fastest recorded humans only swim 4-5mph and certainly not even a fraction of the sharks’ distance. What this equates to is a scary scenario where humans are grossly out of their league.
6. Sharks like the great white and mako can propel their body out of the ocean (air jaws) while its not quite a Sharknado (tv movie 2013), it certainly is a force of nature. The sheer power and control that these sharks use to elevate their bodies and deliver paralyzing blows to their prey confounds rational thought. Contrary to movie mega sharks, the two largest species of shark to date, the whale shark and the basking shark, do not launch out of the ocean or attack people they are the whale shark and the basking shark. For amazing video on this, check out any Discovery Shark Week episodes with the title “Air Jaws”.
5. They are comfortable in the wide open ocean. What can I say, humans are not equipped for being exposed and vulnerable in Open Water (2003) or Deep Blue Sea (1999) for that matter. When ships go down or don’t come back for you it leads to terrifying consequences. [i] These situations provide the stuff of horror as evident in, The Reef (2010), and Discovery Shark Week Season 2 Episode 2 “Ocean of Fear”.
4. Unique senses. In addition to their well known sense of smell, some sharks have lateral line receptors that sense vibrations in the water as well as electroreceptors (ampullae of Lorenzini) that detect electrical fields such as those from muscle contractions in prey. They usually sense us before we see them. It’s a perfect prescription for paranoia. Jaws (1975) capitalized on this through its stellar point of view shots from the shark’s perspective.
3. Few natural predators – other than humans. And we can limit our impact by not eating shark, raising awareness, and eating only sustainable seafood as to minimize bycatch.[ii] Even Ghost Shark (tv movie 2013) warns of the dangers of killing sharks.
2. Mysterious. We don’t know they are there, we don’t know how to stop them when they attack, and we don’t quite understand them. There is still so much we don’t know about them. Granted I doubt we will discover a Sharktopus (tv movie 2010) but who knows, stranger things have happened. Species are still being discovered. Sharks are among the oldest species on earth, dating back over 400 million years (Long before the megalodon from Jurassic Shark circa 2012). This predates dinosaurs or pretty much any land animal. This provides evidence that sharks have adapted to change better than almost any other animal over all these years.
1. Mythology. Like Candyman, the legacy is in the legend. No one besides the boogeyman shares the legacy of the shark. Revered by some cultures, sharks have more frequently fallen victim to negative stereotypes reinforced by popular culture. In reality, sharks are some of the world’s most misunderstood animals. There are more than 350 species of sharks and the majority of them are harmless to humans. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all shark attacks involve just three species the great white, tiger, and bull. The reality is that humans are the true top predators of the sea, killing more than 100 million sharks each year in fisheries.[iii]
I will leave you with this little bit of reality: While sharks make for great horror, you are more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a shark.[iv] And be sure to look for more posts this week celebrating sharks in horror!