Shark Week is an annual, week-long celebration of all things sharks. For many, it’s the one time of the year they get to experience the underwater world of these apex predators. Here in the Keys, it’s a different story: we enjoy these beautiful creatures on the reef year-round. Here are some of our favorite fun facts about sharks and Shark Week in the fabulous Keys!
1. 2020 is Shark Week’s 32nd Anniversary. Shark Week originally premiered on July 17, 1988 on the Discovery Channel. Since 2010 (when it broke this record), it’s been the longest-running cable television program event in history and one of the most popular.
2. Rumor has it that Shark Week was invented in a bar by a bunch of drunk Discovery Channel employees. After the idea was discussed, it was written on a cocktail napkin, and the rest is history. Sharks and beer ‒ no wonder we’re so into it!
3. In 2018, Shaquille “Shaq Attack” O’Neal hosted the 30th Anniversary edition and faced his fear of sharks by jumping into a cage to dive with them. A stray shark managed to wriggle into the cage, sending the 7’1”, 324-pound NBA superstar scrambling up the steps, but not before giving the slick shark the “MVP elbow” to the mouth, causing the shark to clench his teeth and preventing a bite. This year, Shaq returns to Shark Week, to swim with whale sharks. “Now listen, I’m not a fishologist or whatever you call them, but whales eat people and sharks eat people, so I’m like, ‘Aww, both of these dudes are combined?’” he said. After filming, he said they were “very docile” and “gentle” giants. Sounds familiar, huh, Shaq?
4. In the 2016 Shark Week episode “Wrath of a Great White Serial Killer,” Emmy award-winning underwater cinematographer and shark expert Andy Casagrande used a life-sized mock shark (which is still mounted at Key Largo Underwater Park) at Jules Undersea Lodge in Key Largo to simulate an attack in Maine by a 16-foot great white. Local Daniel Blezio worked as a support diver for the mission, “driving” the giant shark model in the water via scuba and a “bicycle-like handle” inside or using scuba equipment to make bubbles underneath it to simulate movement. Blezio said the biggest challenge was getting the giant model to be neutrally buoyant, and that, overall, “it was a great experience to work with Discovery Channel.”
5. According to spokesperson Kate Goggin, NOAA Fisheries manages 42 shark species and almost all of them occur, at least occasionally, within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Favorites include: nurse, sandbar, reef, hammerhead, bonnethead and bull sharks. Last year, great whites were even spotted near Geiger Key.
6. Sharks can pick up electrical fields given off by other animals in the water. Their receptors are so strong, nothing we’ve invented has that degree of sensitivity to electrical currents. This allows sharks to hunt in dark and murky waters. Some scientists are trying to leverage this sense to keep sharks safe from fishing equipment.
7. Sharks can only swim forward. That’s why they have to “circle” their prey to get another look. Many species will actually sink if they stop swimming.
8. The shark family group has been around for at least 420 million years, making them older than humans, dinosaurs, Mount Everest, and even trees, according to New Scientist.
9. The US led the world for unprovoked shark attacks (64%) in 2019, with 41 of 64 attacks worldwide. Florida accounted for 21 of those, a drop from the most recent 5-year average of 32 attacks per year for the sunshine state. Data comes from the Yearly Shark Attack Summary issued by International Shark Attack File.
10 . There were nine shark attacks in 2019 in Volusia County, Florida, home of New Smyrna Beach, unofficially known as the “shark attack capital of the world.” Three of those attacks occurred on the same day. Data comes from the Yearly Shark Attack Summary issued by International Shark Attack File.