The program opens with a disclaimer: "Handling of sharks is not advised. It's nuts." Thank you, Captain Obvious. But the real scary thought? That they needed this disclaimer in the first place. That means some yahoo out there saw Shark Week and fancied himself invincible. Rookie mistake. However, I kind of hope that dude lost, like, a toe, because a) he deserves to get bitten, but b) he does not deserve to have an awesome shark attack story he can brag about at dinner parties. GEEZ.
So we find out that Great Whites - previously thought to be THE predator to be reckoned with - are being "hunted" by something. Some mysterious force has been manhandling these sharks. And they think it might be...wait for it...ORCAS. This is like Christmas morning (I would assume) for ocean lovers the world over - sharks AND orcas in the same program??
Great Whites are, supposedly, apex predators, which by definition means there is NO GREATER NATURAL PREDATOR out there (i.e., no next rung to get to - this is it), so how can there possibly be something hunting them? Eli Martinez, a shark diver and conservationist, believes the only way that a predator could trump a Great White would be to put the Great White into an immobile state and wonders if other ocean predators have evolved and adapted, somehow figuring out how to exploit a shark's hidden weakness - tonic immobility.
Tonic immobility is a defense mechanism in many other animals but is induced in a shark when turned upside down. Eli decides to test this theory - first on Silk Sharks, then on Reef Sharks, and then on Tigers. They use chain mail suits to protect themselves from the bites. Not gonna lie, it was hard to take them seriously, as all I could think about was a Renaissance Fair (mmmm, turkey legs). We learn that larger sharks (like Reef Sharks and Tigers), which are harder to fully flip over, can be put into a tonic state by "overstimulating the shark's electrical sensors," called the ampullae of lorenzini. When they do this, they, and I quote, "send the shark into a state of ecstasy." Whoa. When that happens, they can stand the sharks up vertically by the nose. It's equal parts breathtaking and terrifying, because you know the second the shark comes out of that state he's going to be pissed that they made him look stupid.
Luckily (or sadly, depending on your taste), everyone comes out of these trials unscathed. So they believe sending a Great White into this state is possible, but what is capable of doing that? ORCAS. The team locates a family pod and then Eli gets in the water with them...without a cage. But GET THIS: he befriends them by snapping. Apparently, orcas love a snap (they are fascinated by hands. True story.). It's in this segment we learn that not only are orcas capable of sending sharks into tonic states, but that they do this, like, ALL the time. Tonic immobility is snoozeville to orcas, a skill they mastered long ago. First they karate chop (technical term) the shark with their tails to stun it and then flip it over so they can eat as a pack at their own pace. So mystery solved - the orca is the culprit here (which isn't surprising, given that they are pretty much dressed up as old-timey French robbers).
Factual Takeaways and Interesting Tidbits:
- Silk sharks are one of the fastest species of shark in the ocean.
- Tiger Sharks can weigh up to a ton and are known for their bone-crushing jaws. UM if you know anything about sharks, it's that Tigers are the worst. Like will eat anything at all worst. Like "oh-look-at-that-rusted-out-car-over-there-I-think-I'll-give-it-a-try" worst. UGH.
- Orcas are the most advanced hunters in the ocean - they even beach themselves to snatch seals and create waves to knock prey from floating ice (that's dedication).
- Each population of orcas has a favorite food and, thus, has developed a specialized hunting strategy in order to obtain it.
- Orcas live in family pods and work together to hunt, a la wolves.
Bottom Line: Orcas rule, sharks drool.
SPAWN OF JAWS: The Birth: This program involves a search for the birthing locale of one Great White. We learn at the outset that no one has ever revealed the nursery of a Great White - one of the truly baffling open-ended questions of our time. We know how a Great White stalks its prey, how they attack and how they mate, but what we have yet to learn is where exactly they give birth to their pups.
The show's protagonist, shark scientist Dr. Michael Domeier, thinks he has the answer - "natal homing." Under this theory, a Great White would return to her birthplace to birth her own pups. To prove this, Mike comes up with a newly designed tag and, with the help of Paul Walker, manages to finagle it on to the dorsal fin of a recently impregnated Great White he dubs "Gill Rakers." Ms. Rakers is the biggest shark EVER captured and tagged anywhere in the world. Sharks have an 18-24 month long gestation period, so the duo make plans to reunite in a year to use the tag to track Gill down and locate her birthing center. Unfortunately, Paul passed away three weeks later. It should be noted that Discovery Channel did a great job of paying homage to Paul Walker - a true supporter of sharks and ocean conservation generally.
The mission continues in Paul's absence. They track Gill up the Oregon coast line where she heads to feed on the seal population before she returns down the California coast line and settles out around Santa Monica beach. It is here the team believes she plans to birth her babies. To test this theory, they look for evidence of other Great White pups in the area - and they actually find one! This is a landmark achievement, as footage of a Great White pup this young had never before been captured. So Mike is pretty sure Santa Monica is the spot...but Gill throws him for a loop.
Apparently, she's got post-birth 'ritas on the brain - she bee-lines it for the Sea of Cortez, one of the most lawless fishing areas in the world, and one where Great Whites have been killed on the regular. All the sudden, her tag just shuts off, causing the audience major heart palpitations. Apparently "finning" - the deplorable act of killing sharks for their fins and tossing their bodies - is quite common in this area, especially during the Great White's birthing season. Moreover, there is a commercial fishing operation taking place in the area. So Gill is literally risking her life to pup. Mike heads down to Mexico to try to find her and finds clues that Great Whites are around. Many sharks go to shallow, coastal areas, away from predators, to pup, which is what Mike is hoping that Gill herself has done. Using the water surface temperatures from the area, and cross-referencing it with Gill's last "ping" on their radar, they locate her, alive and well! Mission accomplished.
PSA Time: I may joke about sharks being my enemy, but finning is a brutal and totally disgusting practice. Not only that, sharks are absolutely beautiful creatures who play a very valuable role within their ecosystem - killing off an apex predator can do nothing but hurt the remaining living things within that system, which in turn can have an effect on the surrounding ecosystems (including our own). I am 100% against the killing of sharks, for this or any purpose, as I have a healthy respect for the species and for their natural environment.
Factual Takeaways and Interesting Tidbits:
- Open wounds on a shark might suggest that the shark recently mated, as a male will bite her to hold her in position.
- A preggo shark needs to consume more than 20 lbs of food every day.
- Great Whites ram their seal prey with the same force as a human car going 25 mph.
- Over 2000 Great Whites patrol the coast of California, and 97% of all shark attacks there are by Great Whites (while either searching for food or scoping out a place to pup).
- Both Great Whites and Lemon sharks give live birth to a litter of around 12 pups every 2 years.
- 2/3 of a shark's brain is dedicated to the nose - their sense of smell is so sensitive that it could detect a chicken nugget in an area 16 times the size of central park!