Swimming with . . . SHARKS!

By Jillian Morris

No, these kids aren’t in any danger. They’re discovering how cool sharks can be. Wade in and see for yourself!

Jillian Morris
Photo of Jillian Morris by Duncan Brake

My name is Jillian, and I ♥ sharks! I’ve always loved swimming—and learning about what I’d see under water. By the age of 5, I’d decided I wanted to be a marine biologist (a scientist who studies ocean life). And now that’s exactly what I am!

I saw my first wild shark when I was 8 and have been obsessed with sharks ever since. I was surprised to hear things like, “Sharks are bad! Horrible! Monsters!” People don’t have to love sharks, of course. But they should get their facts straight. So, I decided to start a program called Sharks4Kids.

When the words “sharks” and “kids” are in the same sentence, most people are, like, wait…WHAT?! I’ve spent thousands of hours around sharks. Like any wildlife, they simply deserve our understanding and respect.

swimming with sharks

My team and I do activities both in and out of classrooms. And we take kids on field trips so they can see how we study sharks in the wild. The students in the boat above are getting ready for an ocean adventure. They’re also learning how to be comfortable and safe in the water.

That’s me at the top with the girl wearing the yellow mask. I noticed that she was shy, staying on the beach and struggling with her snorkel. I said, “Forget the snorkel. Just hold your breath and stick your face in.” I took her hand, and we walked slowly into the water together. When she finally dipped her head under and saw how incredible the ocean was, she was all smiles.

Not every shark is big and toothy, like the ones you may see in scary shows or sometimes hear about. Nurse sharks, for example, spend a lot of time just chilling out on the sea bottom—no matter who’s watching.

FUN FIN FACT: Lemon sharks don’t look—or taste—like the fruit. But their skin does have a lemony-yellow tint.

boy with ray

In our program, we teach kids just how amazing sharks are. There are more than 500 shark species in the world, so it’s no surprise that there are many differences between them. Sharks also do really cool things. Some, for example, can leap clear out of the water, while others glow in the dark. We also know that sharks are quite intelligent.

Now check out the boy above, having fun while swimming with some southern stingrays. He knows that a ray is basically just a shark’s flat cousin. If you could smush a small shark, its gills and mouth would move underneath and its fins would get thinner and wider. Voilà, a little “sea pancake”!

lemon sharks

The young lemon sharks above did not hatch from egg cases. Their moms swam near the shore to give birth. Once a baby lemon is born, the cord attaching it to its mom breaks. Guess what that leaves on the baby? A bellybutton!

Each mom then swims back out to sea, leaving her newborn in a shallow mangrove nursery. (A mangrove is a tropical coastal wetland.)

The little lemon will find plenty to eat—and places to hide—as it swims into a tangle of bigger mangrove leaves and roots. Soon, it will meet up with other young lemons to hang out with for the next few years.

swimming with sharks

My team invites kids to join us in the shallow mangroves as we collect information. Above, I’m holding a young lemon shark while my teammate Candace measures it. (She’s a marine biologist, too!) We also insert an ID tag under the shark’s skin.

And we clip off a tiny bit of fin to collect some DNA. The DNA helps us figure out which sharks are related. We can also discover whether adult females return to the same areas they were born in to have babies of their own.

The more we learn, the better we can protect these sharks—and their mangrove habitat. And the more the kids learn, the more likely they will continue this important work when they grow up. That’s why it’s fun when they learn how much alike kids and sharks can be.

For example, like a lemon shark, YOU have buddies, right? And a bellybutton! Maybe you even once spent time in a nursery. Can you think of other ways you’re like a shark?

I wish all kids loved sharks the way I do. But if they at least understand instead of fear them, that would be FINtastic, too!

Rangers: To learn more, visit sharks4kids.com. Maybe you’ve already read Jillian Morris’s first two JAWsome kids’ books, Norman the Nurse Shark and Shark Super Powers–R.R.


Shark Video
WATCH and learn more about Sharks4Kids!
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