Just when you thought it was safe to read another decade-in-review listicle…
As the 2010’s come to an end, it’s a time to reflect on the often-problematic decade that was as we plan for a hopeful future. I am a sucker for year-in-review and decade-in-review listicles, and was devastated to learn that no one had yet written a decade-in-review listicle for sharks! Please enjoy my official, scientific list of the most important science, conservation, and pop culture sharks from the past decade.
10) Greenland sharks
Greenland sharks are a deep sea cold water weirdo that dominated science news. The largest members of the dogfish family, these animals have starred in my go-to amazing science fact ever since Greenland sharks were found with polar bear skulls and reindeer antlers in their stomachs. (They probably scavenge on polar bears and reindeer that drown, but no one has ever observed them, and in my professional opinion a swimming polar bear is vulnerable to being slurped up from below). They are also the slowest-swimming large fish ever measured, and most adults are blind or nearly blind because of a crazy parasite that lives on their eye. They were the star of a hilarious Canadian news story .
This stuff is all awesome, but what made Greenland sharks dominate science news this decade was the incredible 2016 discovery that they may be the longest-lived vertebrate animals in the world! This got tons of high-profile media coverage at the time and for years, and went viral on social media- I wouldn’t be surprise if no shark research paper ever breaks the AltMetric record currently held by this paper. This was also included in National Geographic’s list of the top 20 scientific discoveries of the decade. They are not the #BestShark, Solomon, but they are a pretty awesome shark. To learn more about greenland shark conservation, check out this blog post, and to learn more about the animals, please follow my friend and colleague Dr. Brynn Devine on twitter.
9) Sharks on stamps
In 2018, I did what may well be the nerdiest thing I will ever do in my life: I attended an official launch party for a new set of stamps. These were, of course, shark-themed stamps issued by Canada Post, which I wrote about for Earther. The year before, the United States Post Office had also issued a set of shark stamps. Despite being the grandson of a state-level Postmaster, I never got too much into philately, but in some circles being the subject of a set of stamps is considered hitting the big time.
Though it often frustrated that hell out of me, there’s no doubt that Carcharocles megalodon was one of the most-discussed sharks of the decade. From Discovery Channel lies to a surprisingly not terrible action movie, people were fascinated with the idea that the largest shark ever might not really be extinct. (Megalodon is definitely super-duper extinct, y’all.) This idea was responsible for my first ever national television interview, which we had to restart several times because you apparently can’t say the F-Word on CNN. Learn some real facts about these admittedly-awesome, but definitely extinct, sharks at this blog post.
7) The dragged shark
In 2017, a group of Florida fishermen dragged a shark behind their boat, killing it in an incredibly cruel way while they laughed. While it frustrates me that one shark from a species that’s legal to kill received more media attention than every other shark conservation story ever combined (source: my as yet unpublished research on media coverage of shark conservation), there’s no doubt that this got people talking about saving sharks. This incident gave those of us concerned about revising recreational shark fishing rules in Florida some political momentum.
6) Left shark
Left Shark was the breakout star of Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime show, and was the face that launched a thousand memes (and at least one tattoo). For several days after the Super Bowl, Left Shark memes dominated the internet in a way no shark before or since has managed. I tried really hard to pivot this fleeting internet fame into some science education, but it…didn’t work great. Regardless, we had some fun for a few days. Be sure to read the inside story from Bryan Gaw, AKA the dancer in the left shark costume.
5) The tweeting sharks of OCEARCH
As someone who uses social media for public science engagement, it’s been absolutely fascinating to watch the rise of the “tweeting shark” phenomenon. Though other sharks including Hector the Blue Shark and Domino the Whale Shark had been doing this before, it was OCEARCH-tagged sharks, especially Mary Lee and Katherine, who made the idea of tweeting sharks really famous. These sharks have inspired a massive social media following and some surprisingly personal attachments. Everywhere one of these sharks goes makes local news. When Mary Lee’s tag battery died, it got written up in Newsweek and USA Today! These tweeting sharks have undeniably had a major influence on public understanding of marine biology and conservation.
4) SharkNado and the Golden Age of the Bad Shark Movie
The idea of the “Bad Shark Movie,” a subgenre of the “Creature Feature,” is decades old; the earliest example I can find comes from 1950. However, the genre really came into its own in the 2010‘s, with the Mega Shark vs. series (shut up I know the first one was in 2009), the SharkTopus series, and the multi-headed shark attack series (2 headed shark attack, 3 headed shark attack, 5 headed shark attack, and six headed shark attack). The cream of this cinematic crop was the SharkNado franchise, which I’ve now given an invited academic lecture and a Nerd Nite DC talk about.
I say “franchise” because this was not just one film, but *SIX*, nearly unheard of for the creature feature genre. The stars and creators are as surprised at how popular and influential these films became as you are, as recounted in “oh hell yeah: an oral history of the SharkNado franchise,” which is honestly some of the most delightful pop culture writing I’ve ever read. These movies are NOT good, but they were better than they had any right to be, and had a shockingly large impact on pop culture for SyFy channel original B-movies.
(DISCLAIMER: SharkNado 2 is thanked in my Ph.D. dissertation and in any talks resulting from chapter 4 of my Ph.D., because they funded some of my work).
3) The losers and haters
On July 4, 2013, the man who would later become the President of the United States tweeted “sharks are last on my list- other than perhaps the losers and haters of the World”. This was in response to a activist campaign to get him to stop serving shark fin soup at some of his hotels, but of course certain…other news involving the President and sharks was revealed later. I gotta tell you, I’ve gotten a lot of media requests in my career, and if I’m never again asked to comment on what sharks a person is looking at on televsion while they are having an extramarital affair, I’d be ok with that. Never forget that an anonymous donor named a shark after Robert Mueller.
2) Baby shark
While this song has actually been around for over a century and is NOT NEW, a recent remix of it has taken the internet by storm, inspiring many covers and parodies while driving parents insane. (Fun fact: on vacation in Mexico this year, Stacey and I saw kids dancing to a Spanish-languge version, resulting in one of the few times I have ever snort-laughed). This song was responsible for one of my all-time favorite media interviews, and played a critical role in my new hometown’s recent world series victory. Be careful with your Google News alerts, though…
Of all the many sharks that influenced science, conservation, and popular culture this decade, the sandbar shark, AKA #BestShark, is obviously the winner.
- Blahaj, the IKEA shark
- Shark Tank (I love this show even though it destroys my Google News alerts).
- Jaws, which had it’s 40th anniversary during this decade and was re-released in theaters
- Shark webcomics including SHAAAARK and the Life of Sharks – see my interview with the creators of the latter
- #CITES4Sharks and global shark conservation efforts
- Newly discovered species, especially the Ninja Lanternshark and Genie’s Dogfish
- The disappearing great white sharks of South Africa
Happy holidays, everyone, and may your 2020 be most excellent.