Did you know sharks lived in Earth’s ocean before dinosaurs roamed its land? It’s true! Shark relatives were around a whopping 400 million years ago—and some of them looked so strange that it’s hard to believe that they’re related to today’s shark species. For instance, the iniopterygians had large, wing-like fins growing from their necks. Some scientists believe they could fly! Xenacanth sharks had markings that looked similar to a tiger, and bodies that looked similar to an eel. Listracanthus’ also had eel-like bodies but they were covered with feathery, teeth-like formations.
Not all ancient sharks were that unusual—and some are even still around today. A great example is the sixgill shark, which is included among the species that existed before dinosaurs. Because of the six gill slits along the sides of their heads (from which they get their names), these sharks bear a resemblance to many prehistoric shark species that are now extinct. Most shark species living on Earth today have five gill slits.
Sixgills are fascinating in other ways as well: they’re the third-largest predatory shark in the world, and they’re generally found in deep water (as much as 8,000 feet below the surface!) around the world. But they’ve been sighted in water as shallow as 20 feet in Puget Sound and British Columbia—even directly below the Aquarium’s pier! Our researchers have been studying them for the past several years to learn more about this mysterious, ancient species.
Ready to learn more about sharks—including sixgills and the other species that live right here in Puget Sound? Visit the Seattle Aquarium for our Wild Sharks event, July 29–August 4! You can also discover more about all kinds of sharks with our exhibit of artwork from Ray Troll’s book, Sharkabet: A Sea of Sharks from A to Z, from now through November 3. Also, check out our sixgill sharks page for information on our exhibit and research.
Are you afraid of sharks? If you’ve seen how they’ve been portrayed in movies over the years, or heard stories in the news about humans being attacked by sharks, perhaps you are. Sharks have fearsome reputations—but are they based in truth? Take our quiz below…you may be surprised at what you find out!
True or false: Sharks seek out humans to eat.
Let’s start with a statistic: shark attacks end only about five human lives per year, worldwide. Hippos kill far more humans every year—nearly 3,000!—than sharks do. People are simply not included on the list of what sharks like to eat. So why do they attack humans? Due to poor visibility, people in the water may look like something else to a shark.
True or false: Sharks don’t have any predators.
Killer whales have been known to prey on sharks. But humans, by far, are the biggest shark predators. We kill approximately 100 million of them every year, primarily for their fins. Fortunately, sharks have recently started receiving government protections that prohibit the practice of what’s called “finning.” The Shark Conservation Act was implemented by the U.S. Congress in 2011; more recently, the European Union adopted a strict ban on shark finning. Locally, the Seattle Aquarium urged support of a ban in 2011 on shark finning and trade of shark fins within Washington waters. And this summer, we joined other aquariums to support such state bans into federal waters.
True or false: There are too many sharks in the ocean, so it doesn’t matter if a lot of them are killed.
Sharks populations are decreasing worldwide, and not just because the animals are being hunted to death. Pollution and other factors are also playing a role in their decline.
True or false: Sharks are just big, brutal animals and have no real value in the ecosystem.
Sharks serve a vital role by preying on overabundant species and helping to maintain ecosystem balance.
Ready to learn more about sharks—including the species that live right here in Puget Sound? Visit the Seattle Aquarium for our Wild Sharks event, July 29–August 4.
Gooseneck barnacles, Pollicipes polymerus, are crustaceans that form dense colonies on rocks and other firm surfaces. The feathery appendages that comb through the water for food are actually modified feet, called cirri. Gooseneck barnacles may live for 20 years or so, if not hurt by oil spills or other pollution, or eaten by gulls, snails—or humans.
Yes, you read that correctly. Indigenous people have long eaten the bright red flesh of the “stalk” (which is reported to taste like lobster), but only in the last few decades have these crustaceans become a popular delicacy in restaurants, especially in Spain and Portugal, where the demand has apparently fostered over-harvesting and poaching.
Come see barnacles in action at the Seattle Aquarium (sorry, no sampling allowed!).
Now’s your chance to cast your eyes upon the rarely seen and aptly named feather star. Visit our Puget Sound Fish exhibit to marvel over these graceful echinoderms—you may find it hard to believe they’re related to sea stars, sea cucumbers, sand dollars and sea urchins!
The feather star’s mouth is on the top (near the purple star in our photo). It uses its five arms (which look like ten because they fork near the base) to gather food particles in the water, and then transport them by mucus and tiny tube feet to its mouth. The claw-like cirri (the appendages at the red arrows in our photo) can hold onto sponges and other firm surfaces, and “walk” the animal to other locations. If threatened by sunflower sea stars or other predators, the feathery arms can propel the animal away from danger.
Visitors to the Seattle Aquarium were treated to a bonus exhibit last week: at least two species of jellyfish were seen massed in the waters of Elliott Bay, just beyond the walkway of our new harbor seal exhibit. “Are those alive?” was a frequently asked question, usually answered when visitors were encouraged to watch for movement of tentacles.
Our indoor moon jelly exhibit amazes visitors, many of whom have never seen live jellies, but the experience of “wild” jellies is really special. Moved by currents, the fried egg (Phacellophora camtschatica) jellyfish shown in our photos below feed on masses of much smaller water jellies (Aequorea spp.). Unlike the even larger red-dish lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) occasionally seen in Elliott Bay, the fried egg jellyfish has a relatively mild sting. The lion’s mane (even dead specimens washed up on the beach) can deliver a substantial sting to humans who encounter its tentacles; meat tenderizer is suggested as an antidote.
Visit our website for more information about jellyfish—then come visit us to see the real thing, in our “jelly donut” exhibit and potentially in the waters of Elliott Bay!