Shark assembly awes Meneley students |

Shark assembly awes Meneley students

by Scott Neuffer

A 15-foot inflatable great white shark named Sheila helped dispel misconceptions about her kind during an assembly at Meneley Elementary School on Feb. 9.

“I was scared of sharks before, but now I’m not,” said 12-year-old sixth-grader Jacob Anderson. “Now, I know they come up to nibble on you to see what you are, not to eat you.”

Sheila was the finale of an interactive educational program called the Australia Great White Shark Expedition. Marine biologists and underwater photographers Wayne and Karen Brown used props, models and specimens, including 3-foot-wide jaws of a 20-foot female shark, to teach students about the real characteristics of the powerful species. They then presented a slide-show of their shark-seeking voyage off the coast of Southern Australia.

“Sea lions are the favorite food of great white sharks,” Wayne explained. “But great white sharks actually help the sea lions stay healthy because they only take away the sea lions that are sick or have diseases. That way, the other sea lions don’t get sick.”

Hoping to locate a great white along the shore of a small, sea lion-populated island, the Browns drew a long trail of chum on the surface of the water.

“Great whites are like dogs. They can actually follow a trail,” Karen said.

To a shark, Wayne said, a boat can look like a dead whale.

“When the shark comes up biting the bottom of the boat, they’re trying to feel it and taste it to see what it is,” he said. “They don’t want to eat it.”

After a long night baiting the waters around them, the couple rose early in the morning to have breakfast.

“We were just sitting down for breakfast when we heard some scratching and biting on the bottom of the boat,” Karen said.

“Great whites are the only sharks that stick their heads of out of the water to see what’s going on,” Wayne explained.

The following picture showed a massive, triangular head poking out of the water, then the same creature testing the stern of the boat with rows of razor-sharp teeth.

The Browns deduced that the shark was a 15-foot female, weighing about 3,000 pounds. When others might have headed for shore, they suited up and lowered themselves into a floating cage to get underwater pictures.

“It looks like she’s smiling, like she’s glad to see us,” Karen said, referring to a shot of the shark coming straight toward them.

“The skin feels rough like sand paper,” Wayne said. “Their eyes are coal-black, but they roll back in their head and turn white when they go to bite something.”

Students were impressed with the presentation.

“I thought it was an amazing slide-show,” said 11-year-old sixth-grader Fannie Agner. “I think they’re graceful creatures, and I respect them more.”