Shark Week!


"Dark fins appear, innocent
as if in fair warning"
—Denise Levertov, "The Sharks"
"You may rest assured that the British government is entirely opposed to sharks."
—Winston Churchill in Parliament, Prime Minister's Question Time, Feb. 20, 1945

We've barely begun to recover from the heart-stopping excitement of Sharknado, and here we are in the middle of Shark  Week, the Discovery Channel's annual celebration of all things squaline. And while I'm sure that most of the programming of SW 2013 is perfectly fine, it is my professional obligation to echo commentary currently on the Internet: Contrary to what you might have seen and heard last weekend, megaladons (the largest known shark ever) still do not exist.

Whether we love them or hate them, sharks fascinate us. But why? Some people are enamored of their ability to sense bioelectric fields. Some people think they're beautiful. Others are grateful for their contributions to the ecosystem.

But let's get to the heart of the matter, shall we? Sharks are terrifying, and the terrifying has a perverse allure. As one person put it on Twitter: "They're ancient, and one of the last things on earth that puts us lower on the food chain. Gotta respect that." Admittedly, sharks have more to fear from us than we do from them, but that's small comfort if you're swimming in the ocean and find yourself near one. And the fear of sharks is a very old one. Most modern historians and biologists believe the "monsters" Herodotus described devouring shipwrecked Persian sailors were sharks.

If you're interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures, considering checking out the Nova documentary "Island of the Sharks" or the Secrets of the Deep episode "Great White". And the network has books galore about sharks, including the acclaimed nonfiction thriller Close to Shore, the compelling and respectful exploration The Shark Chronicles, and master storyteller Peter Benchley's Shark Trouble: True Stories about Sharks and the Sea.

If you want to go online for your shark needs, check the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Portal, or National Geographic's shark website.

Here are some interesting facts about sharks for your edification. Joe Queenan holds forth on the dearth of good shark movies. And the National Academy of American Poets has assembled a brief compilation of poems for Shark Week.

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