Sharks are different to us. Let’s face it, they are alien looking, and possess all sorts of “ick” factors. And because of this, we have trouble relating to them and finding reasons to love (and consequently conserve) them. Studies show that we prefer animals that we can relate to, and that we have things in common with. Sharks will never look like us, but perhaps we can still find ways that we can relate to them.
One of my favourite activities to do with kids is to get them to draw themselves as a shark and write down the key attributes of their animal. I ask them to think of what is important to them and what they like, and to use this to design their shark. I then take their information and match them with their “spirit shark”. For example, if they like to lay on the couch and play video games, opportunistically taking a meal as it comes, they might be a wobbegong. Wobbegongs camouflages into their surroundings, waiting to ambush unsuspecting prey. They don’t move a lot, but have excellent sensory capabilities and are lightning quick with their reactions and movements. Or, for kids who are really athletic and love to run and jump, they might be a mako shark.
Finding similarities in attributes can help make these animals real, more relatable, and identifiable as living creatures.
For older kids, we go into more detail, discussing how different features better enable sharks to adapt to their environments and survive. We also talk about how being really good at one thing (e.g. keeping yourself warm in cold water) can have consequences and repercussions (e.g. you need to eat A LOT), also how improving one system may cause decreased functionality in another.