Day 5 6/30/13: Sharks in the Classroom & Beyond


Today I started thinking about the most effective curriculum for my Fall shark-themed English class at Glendale College. In my pre-coffee haze, I assembled a jumble of potential texts and materials:

1. Opening chapter of the novel “Jaws”: as gateway to talking about shark attacks and shark biology.
2. “Sharkwater” documentary: so they can see what shark finning is
3. Selected readings on prehistoric sharks, all the extinctions they’ve survived
4. Info on the current extinction event that sharks might not survive
5. “Air Jaws” clips
6. “Jaws”: The Movie
7. Shark Gods of the Pacific Mythology & Ritual/Environmentalism essays (Derrick Jensen, etc.)

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Day 4 6/29/13: Remembering the Victims: Becoming a Pinniped Pal

A former volunteer at the The Marine Mammal Center in San Pedro (not to be confused with the Marine Mammal Centers in Santa Barbara, Sausalito and Laguna Beach), wrote a brief and astonishing description of her time there. Apparently, a sea lion admitted to the facility was recovering from a severe shark bite.  Volunteers swaddled the animal in honey-soaked wraps to help his skin regenerate.

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Day 3 6/28/13: Reading “Jaws” 40 Years Later

Much has been written about the negative legacy of “Jaws,” the mindless eating machine myth that fueled so much wanton killing of sharks. But many marine biologists and shark researchers have also cited “Jaws” as the reason they fell in love with sharks in the first place.

I wonder how many of them actually read Peter Benchley’s novel before they saw the movie?

I love the idea of harnessing the power of pop culture to save animals. Today, my friend Dan and I began planning a benefit for early next year to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the publication of “Jaws.”  What better way to raise money for an threatened species than through dramatic readings of the thrilling, cheesy glory that is Benchley’s novel?

I still have my copy.  It’s missing a back cover, and the front is held on by gleaming bits of tape, but I can still see that familiar and beloved conical shark head rising through the green, wrinkled sea. I read this book again and again—slumping in the back of my mother’s car, hiding in the sheltering branches of a maple tree, feeling sophisticated on the school bus.  I loved Benchley’s description of the “great fish”  and felt baffled by his detailed account of Ellen Brody’s pre-coital rituals ( did women really put baby powder their bras?).

Although I didn’t become a marine biologist, I’m grateful to Peter Benchley for initiating me into the two great mysteries of nature–the apex predator and the bored housewife.

Day 2 6/27/13 Trash

According to Sausolito’s Marine Mammal Center,  ocean trash kills more than a million seabirds,10,000 marine mammals and turtles each year. 80% of the trash in the ocean comes from the land. 90% of the trash in the ocean is plastic.

On a two-hour walk through Griffith Park, I picked up a lot of trash including those maddening, elusive plastic shopping bags that (thank God) will soon be banned in Los Angeles, those “creepy, flimsy” bags  and that often drift and dance just beyond one’s grasp.

I’ve always been a fan of lists in literature and I found making the list of the trash I picked up to be strangely addictive:

1 Starbucks clear drink lid

1 Milky Way wrapper

1 weathered Scientology ad

1 bright new ad for electronic cigarettes

1 running shoe tongue

1 empty cellophane bag

2 empty clean-up-after-your-dog bags

7 thin plastic shopping bags

1 foam plate

1 glass bottle

1 plastic fork

2 plastic drinking cups

2 plastic caps

7 crushed paper towels

1 ad for the Hollywood Bowl Summer 2013

1 crumpled but still cheerful yard sale sign

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Day 1 6/26/13 Love Makes a Family: Adopt a Shark

Shark Stewards offers symbolic adoptions of the sharks it tags and releases in the waters of the San Francisco Bay.

Today I became the proud surrogate parent of a hammerhead.

Here are some fun facts about this odd fish:

  • Hammerheads swim in large schools that sometimes exceed 100 sharks during the day, but at night are solitary hunters.
  • The oddly shaped hammerhead (known as a cephalofoil) is used for navigation and to detect and trap prey such as stingrays
  • Like humans, hammerheads have stereo vision, (each eye gets a slightly different view of an object), fantastic depth perception and better vision than other sharks.
  • In 2001, a captive female bonnethead (a type of hammerhead) gave birth to a shark without having had previous contact with a male. While “virgin birth” or parthenogenesis had been seen in birds, snakes and reptiles, until 2001, it had never been documented in sharks.