by Katie Julius
[Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of unit study topics we are sharing over the course of the summer. Whether you take a few weeks, a few months, or no break at all this summer, we hope you find these resources helpful in your homeschool.]
Sharks … they often strike fear in young and old alike. But in most instances, it’s simply a case of misunderstanding these amazing creatures who call the water their home.
Perhaps you’ve seen some shows that have aired as part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week or NatGeo’s Shark Fest. These shows can be a bit sensationalized and tend to feed on the fears of people around the world by focusing on larger sharks with bad reputations–sharks like the great white, tiger, bull, oceanic white tip, or great hammerhead. You may have even heard of the great, but now extinct, “Megalodon.” What you may not realize is that these large predatory sharks make up a very small number of shark species across the globe. According to the Smithsonian Institute, there are more than 500 species of sharks–ranging from the gentle, but large, whale shark all the way down to the dwarf lantern shark, measuring in at just six to eight inches!
Whether you’re a die-hard Shark Week fan or keep your toes out of the water, summer is the perfect time to dive into your own study about sharks!
Living in a state with a coastline dwarfed only by that of Alaska and Florida, we are fortunate to have world-class aquariums dotting our coast – from Sea World (San Diego) and Birch Aquarium (La Jolla) to the Aquarium of the Pacific (Long Beach) to Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey) and Steinhart Aquarium (San Francisco). There are also numerous smaller aquariums that usually feature more local species. These facilities provide a look at some of the sharks that don’t make it in the documentaries. Little hands can even touch some sharks (with a gentle two-finger touch) in touch tanks, as they’re not a threat to humans in any way.
Sharks as Part of Their Ecosystem
Whether we like them or not, sharks are an important part of aquatic ecosystems. Pick a shark. Learn about its habitat and the other creatures that are part of their food web. Investigate how a healthy shark population is one sign of the overall health of an ecosystem. On a map of the world, color the range where this particular shark and/or ecosystem can be found. Consider what might happen if there were no sharks (even if a main food source is “cute” marine mammals like seals and dolphins)? What do smaller sharks eat?
So many people think of big, sharp teeth when they think of sharks, but did you know that sharks actually have four different types of teeth, depending on the type of diet they have? God uniquely created each of these sharks and the teeth in their mouths to fit perfectly for what they need them for. Create a lunch menu that features some different types of food that sharks with each type of tooth might eat and enjoy pretending YOU are a shark.
While not one of their more commonly known traits, there are some sharks that use bioluminescence. The kitefin shark is the largest known vertebrate to emit bioluminescence, though it’s still unclear for what purpose, as they are a species that lives relatively deep in the ocean. This makes studying them a challenge. Learn more about other species that use bioluminescence (jellyfish, squid, fish, or algae) and the reasons they do. Then, form your own hypotheses about how these sharks might use it to their advantage, too. You can spend some time exploring bioluminescence through a variety of fun glow-in-the dark activities as well.
A Shark’s Sixth Sense
Sharks have excellent olfactory and auditory senses, but their best “superpower” sense is found in what’s called the “ampullae of lorenzini.” These special sensors can detect electrical impulses that all living things give off. This is how they are so great at finding food, especially species who need to find their prey buried in the sand. This is a fun activity that can help kids understand how this extra special sense works.
While discretion is necessary (both for language and actual educational content), some of the documentaries produced by both National Geographic and Discovery Channel for their summer shark events can be informative and provide opportunities for learning and conversation.
According to the Bible
Sharks can be one of those tricky animals to learn about because so many secular sources reference evolutionary adaptations or the “millions of years” that sharks have existed on earth. Answers in Genesis has a number of articles that you can read to help address some common questions about sharks and how they actually do fit with a biblical worldview.
We hope you enjoy learning about all the ways that sharks are perfectly created for their environment and can share with others about these incredible creatures.
Note: Some of the articles linked above may contain content contrary to the biblical account of creation. We encourage parents to preview resources to determine if they align with their family’s personal values and beliefs or if their children are old enough to have conversations about these scientific theories.