It’s Sharkweek and we’re celebrating by shedding light on National Geographic’s SharkFest, which celebrates these sea creatures and debunks the biggest misconceptions about them in order to bring awareness to their importance to the ecosystem. It’s a day to shed light on the benefits, beauty and mysteries of these sea giants because these extremely resilient predators are, in fact, more scared of humans than the other way around. From loss of population due to climate change to being harvested for their meat and fins or even hunted for fun; sharks have made it on the list of endangered species.
This summer, SharkFest makes a splash to celebrate a decade of shark content with the most immersive and massive programming experience to date. The only shark event that proves truth is stranger than fiction will take viewers up close and personal with one of nature’s most feared predators as it swims across more Disney platforms than EVER BEFORE. National Geographic not only celebrates these amazing predators through our annual television event, but also funds the best scientists and storytellers from around the world to protect sharks and their ocean home.
The National Geographic expedition—which was filmed for Sharkfest 2022 documentary World’s Biggest Hammerhead? —follows a team of scientists from Florida International University who embark on an expedition to find the elusive predator.
Viewers can sink their teeth into almost 30 hours of original programming and over 60 hours of enhanced content featuring captivating science and stunning visuals of the iconic apex predator. SHARKFEST not only shines a light on the science of sharks, giving audiences a better understanding of the ocean’s most misunderstood predator but also features their true beauty, power and mystery.
To celebrate Sharkfest, we spoke to World’s Biggest Hammerhead?’s Candace Fields, a Ph.D student studying geographic and population dynamics of large predators at Florida International University. Originally from The Bahamas, Candace’s research has focused on the population dynamics and geographic population structure of large predators. She is passionate about shark conservation and being a Bahamian advocate for the protection and importance of sharks and rays in The Bahamas. To learn more about shark conservation, the importance of sharks and more.
“The great hammerhead shark which is the focus of our show is critically endangered. There’s a group called the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature that classifies animals based on their level of threat of extinction and critically endangered is one step away from extinct in the wild. Obviously, that’s something we would like to avoid. Just without talking about ecological roles, you never want an animal to go extinct. That alone is a reason to study them and to push for conservation.”
“Additionally, because they’re so elusive it’s hard to study them, so that’s why there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge. There’s a lot of work being done especially on their movement patterns. We’re hoping to find out information about their movements and get some really cool 3d models of their movements to try to understand when they’re hunting, how fast are they going, and to understand their energy. The real driving factor is the fact any animal that is listed as critically endangered, you really want to work to understand as much as you can so you can help get that animal.”
In recent years, Hammerhead Sharks have been spotted off the Florida coast. Some of them are rumored to be similar to the great white shark in size, reaching up to 20 feet in length. The biggest hammerhead ever found was caught by a recreational angler in Florida, and measured 14.5 feet long, and weighed 1,282 pounds. However, scientists are still unsure just how big these sharks can get. In the film, scientists travel along a great hammerhead migration route, from the Florida Keys to the Bahamas, in a quest to find out.
“[Hammerhead Sharks] travel between the Bahamas and Florida and one interesting point about that is when they cross the jurisdictional boundaries into the [United States], they are now not protected from fishing, so in the Bahamas, it’s a shark sanctuary which means shark fishing, shark trade and shark parks is prohibited. When they’re in the jurisdictional waters of the Bahamas they’re relatively safe as far as fishing regulations but when they get to Florida that’s not the case which is already a challenge conservation-wise. These highly migratory animals they don’t know the difference between an arbitrary jurisdictional boundary, they don’t know where safety stops and starts.”
Understanding the effects of climate change on sharks and other fish populations is an emerging area of study. Climate change is causing warming seas, acidification, rising sea level, and other long-term shifts in the environment. It is already affecting numerous marine species in complex ways. Sharks are no exception. The impacts of climate change on marine life are expected to continue into the future.
“In terms of the climate change sharks do have thermal preferences and so they are impacted by the ocean warming. For example, in Bimini, in the Bahamas where we were and is one of the main places where you see these Hammerhead sharks you start to see they’re them show up later and later [in the season] because the water is not cooling down as soon as it was in the past. The sharks are not there as soon as you would expect them to be because the water is just still too hot for them.”
There are lots of misconceptions about sharks. Probably the biggest one most people have is that sharks are a dangerous threat to us, but not only are sharks not a threat, they’re also helpful. Even though shark attacks gain the most publicity, there are many beach-related accidents that cause more injuries and deaths each year than sharks, including car accidents driving to the beach, drowning and boating accidents. Sharks are beneficial. They play a vital role taking care of all the sick, the weak, dying fish and other animals that helps to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Without sharks our ecosystems suffers. The first step to fighting these misconceptions is through education.
“People are quick to let the media impact their perception of something, like the movie Jaws. As soon as you think shark, you think Joe and that’s obviously not a positive portrayal of sharks. First of all, we’re in their home, they are not in ours. Sharks cannot infest the waters because that’s where they live. [It’s] the same way somebody was broken breaking into your house unexpectedly, you might act a little defensively. You can understand why the shark might do the same. Additionally, the sharks are not out to get us, they are not man eaters, they we are not on the menu. Any time a shark interaction occurs, it’s a case of mistaken identity. Nine times out of ten, if you’re surfing or in a kayak or something that might look like potential prey, sharks obviously don’t have hands so they cannot just feel ‘that wasn’t that seal, that wasn’t that turtle.’ They actually have that tactile response through their bite which is why a lot of times you have that bite and release because they’ve now realized, ‘that’s not what I was going for.'”
The biggest thing is just to respect that everything has its place on the planet, and we just have to do our best to coexist. There’s lots you can do. You can things as simple as decreasing your plastic use because pollution is a problem. It can have an effect from the bottom up. It’s not just saving the turtles or whatever you think of as things that necessarily eat these this plastic. You can also get out there and try to see these animals firsthand and form your opinion for yourself and not let simply the views you’re seeing on social media, or television or movies give you your perception of sharks.”
To learn more about World’s Biggest Hammerhead? check out our full interview in the video above.
Watch SHARKFEST all summer long on National Geographic Networks or on Disney+! Join the National Geographic Society in protecting our ocean at natgeo.com/ocean.