Ocean News

Beach Whale Shark

5th August 2009

I just returned from Sanibel Sea School in Sanibel, Florida, where we filmed kids for The Riddle Solvers Shark Episode. One of the highlights was this pre-teen, 40 foot long whale shark, made by hand, out of sand over the course of two hours (of course, you’ll see it all happen here in about 20 seconds).

Why did we film this? Well, our shark episode is about, of course, sharks. And while we try to solve the riddle in our movie, we get help from these children who attended a week long "shark camp".

Sanibel Sea School features week-long camps of various topics during the summer (manatee week, sea turtle week, horseshoe crab week, plankton week, etc.), and we were fortunate that the school invited us to spend time with them during shark week.
What exactly did kids do during shark week?

Well, they made shark-based art projects, like a large puzzle-piece bull shark. They played shark jeopardy. They conducted a "shark attack" where they visited local businesses and used chalk to draw shark facts and images on sidewalks. They snorkeled and surfed and had paddle races.

They even tried to save two young black-tip sharks that were caught in a commercial fishing net. Bruce Neill, the school’s founder, tried for hours to save the black-tip sharks that a fisherman found in his bycatch. He held them under running water to get oxygen through their gills, but unfortunately, the sharks were too far gone. As a result, the kids were able to see  shark dissection (at least the sharks went to good use). Have you ever seen how big a shark liver is? Trust me, it’s amazing.

My highlight was filming the whale shark on the beach. We spent several days with the school’s staff, scheming about how to build the whale shark. Bruce Neill kept consulting shark guides and measuring textbook drawings with his calipers, so that we would be sure to build the whale shark and its fins to scale. We originally wanted to build a full grown 50 foot shark, but that would make the shark way too tall to conceivably build it out of sand in just a couple hours. So it ended up being a smaller, 40 foot shark . . . the kids used dark seaweed collected from the beach to create the shark’s skin. Then they used globs of sand to create the spots. Finally, they collected white shells to create the gills.  I am incredibly thrilled with the footage we got during the week, and I think it is going to be a great addition to the shark episode.