It’s the hap-happiest season of all!
No I’m not talking about Christmas, I’m talking about Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. It’s must see TV!
While researching my new novel Into the Killing Seas I needed to learn about shark behavior. Into the Killing Seas tells the story of two boys, Patrick and Teddy O’Donnell who stow away on the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War II. They are trying to get back to the Philippines to find their parents who sent them away before the Japanese invaded. Stuck on Guam during the war, the boys are snuck aboard the ship—which just happens to be headed to the Philippines—by Benny Poindexter, a tough but tenderhearted Marine who is sympathetic to their plight. When the ship is sunk by a Japanese sub, Patrick, Teddy and Benny must survive relentless shark attacks.
The U.S.S. Indianapolis had a crew of nearly 1200 men. 300 perished when the torpedoes struck the ship. About 600 crewmen abandoned ship and made it into the water, most of them without life jackets or life rafts. Many of them were wounded or dying. And they were now trying to survive in some of the most shark infested waters in the Pacific. After four days in the water only 317 men ultimately survived the ordeal.
Writing the book required a great deal of research about shark behavior. Luckily I was able to make contact with Dr. Sonny Berger of the Bimini SharkLab and one of the world’s foremost authorities on sharks. And through his generosity, I learned a great number of things we’ve come to believe about sharks simply aren’t true. Here are five interesting facts.
1. Sharks cannot smell blood in the water from miles away.
There is no hard evidence that human blood is more attractive to sharks than ordinary fish blood. Sharks do not have a particularly acute sense of smell. Salmon and catfish have a much better sense of smell than sharks. Sharks are attracted to sound and their acoustical receptors work for hundreds of meters. When the Indianapolis exploded it sent out sound waves that drew sharks from miles around.
2. Sharks are not swimming and eating ‘machines’.
Contrary to myth, sharks are not constantly feeding. Most Lemon sharks for example feed only every three days on average. Larger species eat even less frequently and most sharks eat 2-3% of their body weight before they stop feeding.
3. Certain species of sharks including Mako and White sharks are warm blooded.
Cold blooded species tend to feed during the day when the temperature of the water increases. Warm blooded sharks will feed whenever suitable prey presents itself.
4. Sharks are not territorial or particularly aggressive .
Sharks do not drive off other sharks from a feeding area or food supply. In fact they are by and large social animals, although they do have a personal space.
5. Your best bet in fending off a shark attack is to poke at its eyes or gills.
Don’t punch or kick the nose like we’ve heard. You’ll only make the shark mad. And besides shark skin is covered with sharp teeth-like dermal denticles that will only cut and scrape your hands or feet causing you to bleed. And sharks can smell blood close up.
Michael P. Spradlin