Shark Week is underway on the Discovery Channel, complete with frightening and captivating creatures. Yet, this is not the whole story. Girl Scout Gold Award recipient Sarah Jackson enlightens her viewers with a documentary about the true nature and diversity of the myriad species of sharks.
“People think that sharks are these huge scary creatures searching out people to eat them, but… that’s absurd,” Jackson said.
Jackson has been girl scouting since first grade and has participated in her present troop, troop 2009 in Massapequa, for eight years. As an ocean lover from an early age, Jackson has enjoyed swimming, and she earned her scuba diving certification at age 14. Though Jackson has loved the movie Jaws since age 7, she has since discovered there is another, less widely known side to sharks. In fact, she became inspired by the Canadian documentary Sharkwater a few years ago. In the film, biologist Rob Stewart risks his life to save sharks.
In July of 2012, just one month after earning her Silver Award for organizing a health fair, Jackson started her own documentary-making process. Her first step was a Jaws tour with Michael Currid, a Jaws and shark enthusiast at Martha’s Vineyard, where the movie was filmed. “A lot of fears have come from the movie, but also a lot of…attention to saving those sharks — to learning more about them,” Currid said.
Jackson used a Canon camera to interview Currid. Later, she interviewed Jamie Pollack, Director of Operations for Shark Angels, a shark education and advocacy organization, and Chris Brady, Outreach Coordinator at Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead. Adding a legislative perspective, she interviewed Joseph Erdman, Legislative Director for State Senator Mark Grisanti, about the practice of shark finning. Shark finning occurs when people remove a shark’s fins and return the de-finned shark to the water where it suffocates.
Sharks: A World Misunderstood
To watch the documentary that Jackson created, please visit the documentary’s YouTube videos.
Five Scary Shark Myths Debunked
Myth 1: Sharks Love Eating People
According to Jackson, only a handful of the hundreds of shark species are known to attack humans at all. These more dangerous species include the great white, tiger, and bull sharks. However, most sharks have other dietary requirements instead, such as eating seals, and many do not have pointed teeth. “A lot of people think sharks are these fierce, bloodthirsty eating machines.… We live on an island. We are surrounded by water. Yet, since the 1680s, only two people in New York have been attacked by sharks,” said Brady at the Long Island Aquarium.
Myth 2: Nobody Needs Sharks
Sharks are important to the ecosystem because they eat the sickest, weakest members of a species. They also balance the ocean’s food supply. “Every environment needs a top level predator. Otherwise, you have problems that can take root, such as invasive species,” Brady explained. “We tend to run into problems with overpopulation or severe depletions of population,” he added.
Myth 3: Nothing Scares A Shark
There are actually hundreds of shark species with diverse preferences and behaviors. For example, according to Pollack, when people go diving with hammerhead sharks, the bubbles actually scare these sharks away.
Myth 4: Sharks Are Dumb
According to Pollack at Shark Angels, sharks are actually very intelligent, and they have senses that we lack. “The Ampullae of Lorenzini are gel-filled sacks on their nose area.… It helps them detect magnetic forces in the ocean and it makes them amazing hunters,” Pollack said.
Myth 5: Lots of Sharks To Go Around
Many, though not all, shark species are endangered, explained Brady. “Sharks cannot stand the fishing pressure.… If you take more out of the ocean than they actually reproduce, then you have a problem,” Pollack added.
According to a news clip from 1010 WINS from the documentary, shark fins are in high demand, especially among the Chinese, and can sell for as much as $638 a pound in New York. In addition, some Chinese people eat a special shark soup delicacy at weddings.
Shark finning is illegal in New York State, but according to the Associated Press, 73 million sharks are killed worldwide each year. A recently passed New York State law will ban the sale and distribution of shark fins starting next summer, making New York the eighth state to ban the practice. Legislative Director Erdman advised people advocating for legislative causes, saying: “Face-to-face is always the best way. Calling is probably second.”
Sarah Jackson Earns Her Gold Award
The Gold Award is the highest honor a girl scout can receive. Requirements on the Girl Scouts of Nassau County’s website include a project proposal, a panel interview, and a project that has a lasting impact on the community. According to Jackson, all the girls in troop 2009 earned gold awards, which is very unusual. She credits this success to Beth Seickel, Gold Award Mentor. Seickel encourages girls to continue scouting and to turn their passions into gold award projects. “I have met so many people, and this project has opened so many doors for me,” Jackson said. On April 30, the New York State Senate dedicated a resolution, J1489-2013, to Jackson’s achievement.