Shark Week

Live Every Week Like It’s Shark Week

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Every year since 1988, for seven days, the Discovery Channel promotes its Shark Week, during which it airs specials focusing on, well, sharks. These generally alternate from “misunderstood creatures” to “they will eat your children” back to “they are noble scientific marvels”, but these segments are undoubtly the best programming on TV (what with Man vs Wild being outed last week for being fake and all). Discovery highlights Shark Week by turning its Silver Spring headquarters into a a shark as well (I just feel sorry for whoever has those window offices only for three quarters of a year).

Even Manhattan gets into the fun, decorating its cabs and Times Square:

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For the unappreciative, here are 20 Ways Sharks Help Humans provided by the Discovery Channel:

1. As the oldest-living vertebrates, sharks may provide information on the origin and evolution of all vertebrate species, including humans.

2. Sharks affect shellfish-population counts, since many consume skates, rays, and other predators of scallops, crabs, lobsters, and more. When sharks decline, shellfish that many humans like to eat start to disappear, too.

3. Sharks rigged with cameras have provided important data on dangerous underwater sites, such as a Pacific Ocean nuclear-test site where sharks were deployed in 2003.

Hammerhead Shark (Image credit: F. Stuart Westmorland)

4. Sharks possess a highly developed immune system, with few species suffering from cancer and other disorders. If researchers can unlock its key processes, sharks may one day lead to preventative treatments, or even cures, for some of our most deadly diseases.

5. Shark fins and hammerhead shark noses have inspired high-tech adaptations to airline wings and jet bodies. The Langley Research Center has extensively studied sharks, along with whales and seagulls, for their potential design applications.

6. Certain sharks, such as the basking shark, are filter feeders that consume large quantities of zooplankton, such as copepods and krill. Some experts believe this helps to”clean” the water and may prevent red tide and other harmful algal blooms.

Shark Gills (Image credit: Carl Roessler/SEA IMAGES )

7. Shark blood contains special anticlotting compounds that scientists are studying for possible human heart-disease applications.

8. Sharks have the greatest electrical sensitivity of any creature on Earth. Since detection of magnetic fields can help with orientation and navigation, future research on shark electroreceptor organs may one day lead to better navigation systems in cars, planes, and ships.

9. Analysis of sharks, particularly the dogfish, has taught many researchers and students about fish biology.

Whale Shark (Image credit: James D. Watt/Animals Animals)

10. Ecotourism, with sharks serving as a primary attraction, has improved local economies in many places throughout the world, such as in parts of the Philippines and Belize.

11. Sharks and humans once shared a common ancestor, so our tissues are not all that dissimilar. Optometric researchers are investigating the shark cornea, which may one day be used for human transplants.

12. In 2005, Mercedes-Benz modeled a “bionic car” after a tropical fish called the boxfish and other fish, including sharks. Its streamlined shape made the car one of the most aerodynamically efficient vehicles for its size.

Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Image credit: Dorling Kindersley)

13. Sharks always draw a crowd when they are safely contained in aquarium exhibits. While such displays remain controversial, they have earned millions of dollars, with some of the monies going to shark-conservation projects.

14. Many sharks are scavengers that consume dead and dying animals and plants. They help to rid the oceans of rotting carcasses and related waste materials.

15. Squalamine, a chemical extracted from dogfish, appears to kill bacterial microbes and removes potential tumor cells. This natural compound may one day be incorporated into treatments for human infections and disease.

Great White Shark (Image credit: Carl Roessler/Bruce Coleman, Inc.)

16. Shark teeth, with their variety of different shapes, sizes, and cutting surfaces, are a marvel of nature. They may have inspired early human tools, some of which incorporated actual shark teeth, skin or both into the objects.

17. Sharks possess remarkable senses that enable many species to see in near darkness, smell from long distances, feel distant vibrations and more. Analysis of these abilities may one day give humans similar abilities through devices modeled after shark senses.

18. Recent studies indicate that sharks are highly intelligent, with advanced problem-solving skills, social complexity, and a natural sense of curiosity. Using neuronal activity-detecting devices, scientists have developed rudimentary ways of reading animal thoughts and feelings. In the future, we may better understand ourselves by learning how other intelligent creatures view us.

19. Some sharks, such as the spiny dogfish, never seem to go into a full sleep, since they can continue to swim while “sleeping.” Researchers continue to study sharks in hopes of learning more about what occurs in the brain during sleep modes, which may lead to treatments for human sleep disorders.

20. Researchers are experimenting with a new boat-surface coating based on shark scales. Due to their base shape, size, and bristles, scales help to prevent algae and other things from sticking to sharks, a quality designers hope to impart to ships.

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