By Domenica Di Piazza, Editorial Director of Twenty-First Century Books
The title of this blog entry should really be “Talking about Sharks,” because that’s exactly what science writer Karen Romano Young will be doing tomorrow on New England Public Radio’s Back-to-School Book Series program. Talking about sharks! And about her latest book for TFCB, Shark Quest: Protecting the Ocean’s Top Predators, new for Fall 2018.
(Editorial note: You can listen to the interview here.)
Every time I work with Karen on a YA nonfiction project, I think, Yep, this is my favorite book. So it is with Shark Quest. In working with Karen, I’ve gone from being terrified of these cartilaginous fishes to wanting to join a citizen science crew out tagging sharks on the open water. I’d even be game for diving deep to swim with and photograph them.
One of the most important things I learned was that sharks just want to go about their business, free from human interference. In fact, humans are sharks’ biggest threat, not the other way round. We kill them on a massive scale for their fins and liver oil. We use longlining for commercial fishing of tuna, swordfish, and other food fish. But 90 percent of the catch is sharks, and most of them die after they are hooked. Commercial netting also entangles and kills sharks. Many fishers are changing their practices to avoid hurting sharks; many are not.
And then there’s plastic and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the water, which make their way into the fish’s bodies as they breathe. The plastic releases toxins into the shark’s body over time. And because it takes so long for plastic to break down (hundreds of years), it builds up and can block an animal’s ability to absorb nutrients. So it’s important that we work hard to reduce our dependence on plastic. Start by saying no to plastic straws. Take your own reusable cloth tote when you shop. Wrap your sandwich in paper not plastic wrap. Think of other ways to say no to plastic in your everyday life. You’ll come up with a lot of ideas.
Sharks are amazing creatures. They’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years. They are able to navigate thousands of miles every year, using their electroreception sense, which allows them to locate prey and to figure out where they are–even in the dark.
And we all know that sharks are fast. Juvenile shortfin mako have been clocked at speeds of almost 70 miles an hour. They move smoothly through the water because their dermal denticles are hydrodynamic: they have channels through which water flows with little resistance as the animals swim.
Ichthyologists = Shark Scientists
And did you know that one of the world’s most famous ichthyologists (shark scientists) was a woman? Yep, better known as the Shark Lady, her real name was Eugenie Clark. In this photo, she’s pictured with fellow marine biologists Otto H. Oren (left) and Adam Ben-Tuvia (right). Want to learn more about her? Check out her memoir, Lady with a Spear. Or listen to this wonderful, short (4-minute) interview with her from 2006. And be sure to read TFCB’s Shark Quest. You may just sign up for a citizen science experience of your own!