Shark Week: Educational Opportunities

Discovery Channel’s annual summer event, Shark Week, has breached. The week long program has been airing yearly since 1988. While the channel’s shows can be more entertaining (looking at you, Michael Phelps) than educational, the pop-culture phenomenon provides parents and teachers with the opportunity to share more about sharks and marine biology with our future generations.

Shark Week Education

Teaching your child truthful facts about sharks may be more pertinent this year than in the past given this summer’s media blitz about local shark attacks and sightings in Southern California. Yes, sharks can be dangerous. Like all wild animals, they need to be treated with respect and reverence from a safe distance for both your safety and the animal’s safety. That said, there are over 400 species of sharks in our oceans, and many of them, like the whale shark, are completely harmless to humans, filter feeding on plankton, similar to whales’ diets, rather than feasting on seals.Shark Week - hammerhead sharks swimming.

If your child is fearful of sharks from Shark Week’s infamous shark attack specials or from the news earlier in the summer, that’s perfectly understandable. Discovery’s slow motion shots of great whites breaching the surface are terrifying! But, the odds of attack are so very low. Business Insider broke down the odds of death by shark attack in May. It’s one in 8 million. You are more likely to die from a heat wave, a bee sting, or an asteroid. So why are we so scared of them?

Instead of fearing sharks, help your child understand from an early age the struggles these magnificent animals are facing. Great white sharks and whale sharks (remember Destiny from Finding Dory?)  are both listed as vulnerable by the World Wildlife Foundation meaning future endangerment is likely. Sharks’ largest endangerment threat is overfishing. Sharks are both caught on purpose for meat and by accident in fishing nets meant for other fish like tuna. National Geographic reports that for every fatal shark attack, two million sharks die by humans. Sharks should actually be more scared of us!

Talk to your child about conservation and what they can do to help sharks. They can even choose to help another marine animal, if they’d like. Many times, conservation for one group will still help the others. For example, beach cleanups help all of the ocean’s many creatures! Children can also share conservation facts with their friends and classmates, volunteer at a local aquarium, or donate to conservation efforts. The sharks (and other marine life) will appreciate it!

Fun Shark Facts

  • Sharks can weigh up to 11 tons – that’s larger than a fully grown elephant!
  • They can range from 8 inches to 40 feet long
  • Sharks have a sixth sense – detecting electricity!
  • Instead of bone, sharks are made of cartilage, like what makes up our ears and nose!
  • If a shark loses a tooth, it grows back
  • Some sharks, like the great white, must keep swimming at all times or they will drown
  • Whale sharks have the honor of being the largest fish in the sea
  • Sharks live an average of 25 years, though some can make it to 100!
  • Sharks are important to our ocean ecosystem, keeping other species’ populations balanced


Sources: Business InsiderDiscovery ChannelFortune, National GeographicPew Charitable TrustsWorld Wildlife Foundation, and The Washington Post

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