One of the things for being the preeminent (because I think I’m the only) shark conservationist on poetry slam’s national stage, are lots of wall posts from my friends about shark stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I love each and every one of them. Silly shark memes? Love it. Videos of sharks doing awesome stuff? Love it. News stories about sharks? Love it… but…
They’ve got to be truthful, based in fact, something that actually happened. You want to talk to me about the shark attacks that have been injuring surfers on Reunion Island? Let’s talk about that. You want to spitball about why C. megalodon went extinct? Rap with me, brother! You’re worried about my love of Steve Alten’s “Meg” series of novels (of which I’ve read EVERY SINGLE ONE)? I am too! But like Alten’s novels which have spread so, so much disinformation about megalodon (that book cover to the left is FULL OF LIES), sometimes the shark news shared is so demonstrably false, it makes me sad, because #FakeNews, #AlternativeFacts, #NeverTrump.
So, why the post? Because of my friend, poet Curtis X. Meyer from Orlando, who is emphatically on #TeamShark (as one should be) tagged me in an erroneous science post. And this would be a totally cool story! Great Whites on the Mississippi? Alright! Let’s do a Zombies/Jane Austen-type mashup with Huck Finn as Hooper and Jim as Quint, slap it together, and get it to the offices of Quirk Publishing!
OK, let’s debunk this.
1. First off, it’s coming from a website called “React365”. They might as well have called it, “ClickThisNowNetMonkeys.Org”.
2. But is it possible? OK, let’s suss that out. Short answer: No. Long Answer: No, and here’s why. There IS a species of shark that can live and even thrive in fresh water. The bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas). It lives and thrives because of a unique adaptation it shares with a few other species of elasmobranchs (the great white is NOT one of them) called osmoregulation, defined here by the the conservation group WildAid as:
Osmoregulation is the ability of an organism to maintain a constant concentration of water in its body even when its outside environment would normally cause it to lose or gain water. Freshwater and saltwater fish both osmoregulate.
Great whites do not have the power to osmoregulate. Like a raver who drinks too much water and dies of hyponatremia, it’ll throw their salt/water balance out of whack, they’ll go into shock and die. This does not mean they can NEVER enter fresh water – it’s just that they will detect the problem and instinctually move to more saline water. It’s almost 700 miles up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Even if a great white is moving at a full clip against the river current, and is scarfing down catfish like they’re at a Knights of Columbus fish fry, they’re not going to be able to maintain their salt balance for the 5 or 6 days it would take them to reach the Gateway City. Again, they’ll die.
3. But what about the Jersey Shore Shark Attacks of 1916? Didn’t a great white swim up the Matawan River and kill a bunch of people? Well A. we don’t really know if it was a great white (it could have easily been a bull shark) and B. yes, but the Matawan River attacks occurred fairly close to the mouth of the river and the shark got the hell out of dodge pretty quickly after the attacks, blasting through nets set up by the local Jersey populace to catch it as it swam back out to sea. Refer to point 2.
4. Finally, it was debunked by actual news sources months ago: Great White Sharks in the Mississippi River? That’s from CBS St. Louis, perhaps a more reputable source than React365, aka ClickThisNowNetMonkeys.Org.
“So, what’s the big deal, Captain Bringdown?”, you ask? The big deal is that bad stories get into the populace and make life difficult for actual news stories that *should* go viral.
112766 people as of this writing have shared this story. In the pyramid scheme that is Internet Crap, easily triple that have at least seen the headline, and when people like me, or worse, actual scientists go into the field, we have to spend time debunking things like this, or stories of extant megalodon populations and goddamn mermaids (like I had to do one cold October day in Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona). Worse is when people who see stories like this and then the seed of thought is planted: they’ll think “well, if sharks are appearing in the Mississippi, populations in the ocean must be totally recovered and OK!”
Like I write in my poem “The Blue Eternal”: give me a legend, I will fashion you a more interesting truth. Bull sharks HAVE made it as far up the Mississippi as Alton, Illinois. They’re so common in fresh water, people around the world gave their bull sharks different names, from Lake Nicaragua in Central America, to the Zambezi in Africa, and the Ganges in India. They’re a fascinating species – and sadly threatened in our industrial fishing world.
So post an article about how the planned Lake Nicaragua canal could devastate the environmental balance of that unique ecosystem and affect its’ sharks or post that video of a bull shark getting it’s ass handed to it by hippos in Africa. Just make sure what you post is fair and true, like you should with every news article you post.
But don’t stop posting your them on my wall. I love my Facebook sharks, and I love you for posting them.