Now that people have torn themselves away from their television sets—and more importantly, their Twitter feed—after Thursday night’s airing of the SyFy Channel’s movie “Sharknado,” we feel obligated to point out just a few facts to keep in mind when contemplating a sharkopocalpse. (Listen, if SyFy can make up facts, then we can make up words.) Anyway, take it from me—author of “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks”—these people stand to learn a few things about elasmobranches’ behavior. So let’s examine five of the film’s most shocking—and totally false—moments.
1. Tornadoes suck sharks out of the ocean, move through Los Angeles and drop them on the ground, where some die, but others survive – either eating people or moving across dry land. As Ellen Pikitch, a respected shark scientist and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, wrote in an e-mail, “Sharks are supremely well adapted to life in the ocean, but on land – just like any fish out of water – they are soon goners.” Sharks can’t get oxygen from the air but rather, by having water wash over their gills, which is why so many of them are constantly on the move in the sea. Furthermore, Pikitch added: “They just aren’t built for land travel, and their internal body organs will get crushed and fail without the buoyancy provided in their natural aquatic habitat.” So the world could have been saved then and there.
2. In the midst of being whirled in a tornado, a shark eats a bird. Let’s just suspend disbelief and assume it’s possible to pull off this sort of mid-air snacking—do sharks frequently gobble down birds? Not often, though it’s possible that some might nibble on an unfortunate seabird that crosses their path. But great whites prefer fatty prey, like seals and sea lions, and whale sharks (the biggest fish in the sea) use a filtration system to consume tiny critters and plankton. So it’s such not typical.
3. The Pacific Ocean, where these tornadoes touch down, is teeming with sharks. Haven’t you folks followed a word of what I’ve written over the past five years? Sharks are on the decline, fueled by demand in Asia for the delicacy shark’s fin soup, leaving as much as a third of all shark species at risk for extinction. And off California’s coast specifically, a team of researchers has estimated that there are a little more than 200 white sharks swimming in the Pacific. A group of environmental groups petitioned the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to list the West Coast population of great whites under the Endangered Species Act, but NOAA recently rejected that idea. Perhaps agency officials fell for all the hype surrounding “Sharknado.”
4. The film showed many species of sharks swimming together, including great whites, hammerheads and longnose sawsharks. Some sharks are loners—such as great whites—and they are well adapted to different sea temperatures. Salmon sharks can thrive in the frigid waters off Alaska, while hammerheads prefer the warmer temperatures of the tropics. And the longnose sawshark, which is critically endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, resides in the Indian Ocean off Australia. So there’s no chance that the longnose sawshark will be coming to California anytime soon.
5. In a dramatic ending, Ian Ziering jumps into the mouth of a great white shark falling from the sky. Everyone thinks he’s dead (his ex-wife, Tara Reid, included). But not to fear – we hear the buzz of a chain saw rumbling. He cuts open the shark from the inside and emerges bloody, with entrails hanging from his lip. Then, he pulls a girl who had been eaten at least 15 minutes before, and happens to be the love interest of his son—from the same shark. They start CPR and voila, she’s revived. If you actually end up in the belly of a great white, that’s pretty much it. That said, globally shark attacks in the water, average fewer than 100 per year, and of these, only about 10 percent are fatal. As Pikitch observed, “Fatalities are generally due to loss of blood – not from being eaten.”
So there you go, no need to panic about the prospects of sharks raining down from the air, or coming in droves to munch you at sea, for that matter. No let’s all close the book on “Sharknado,” and walk away averting our eyes, treating it like any televised train wreck deserves.
And as conservative Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) observed in a tweet, the movie was a bust anyway, drawing just 1 million viewers.
Lots of hype, didn’t deliver. The ObamaCare of SyFy movies MT @JoshuaGreen “Sharknado” drew just 1M viewers “a bust, even by Syfy standards”
— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) July 12, 2013
Charity Brown contributed to this report.
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