National Geographic : 1992 Oct
On Television Do Sharks Deserve Their Bad Reputation? ( he jaws closed around his torso. ... The fish bit down, and the last thing Hooper saw before he died was the eye gaz ing at him through a cloud of his own blood." Peter Benchley's Jaws helped fix the public's image of the shark as a ruthless, man-eating feeding machine. In fact, a person has a greater chance of being attacked by a pig or struck by lightning than being bitten by a shark. "People fear sharks because they feel they're unpredictable. Yet the more we know of them, the more predictable they become," says Michael deGruy. His new film for National Geographic EXPLORER, "Shark Encounters," co-produced with his wife, Mimi Armstrong, airs on TBS SuperStation as part of an evening of programming dedicated to sharks-in all their diversity. These misunderstood animals range from the 7-inch dwarf dog shark to the 50-foot whale shark, the largest fish in the sea (above). More than 350 species share an ancestry going back 400 million years long before dinosaurs walked the earth-and display a variety of temperaments. What makes a shark a shark? Among other features, it has a car tilaginous skeleton lighter than bone, and skin covered with toothlike scales called denticles. Besides the five senses that humans possess, sharks are equipped with ampullae of Lorenzini, electro-receptors so sensitive that they can detect fields as weak as five-billionths of a volt per centimeter. DeGruy is sensitive to the bad press sharks have received. In con trast he tells of one bonnethead shark who gently rubbed against him as she gave birth to her pup. But for Michael the high point of years of shark-watching came in being the first human to swim with the extremely rare megamouth, a plankton-eating, deepwater species discovered only in 1976 and never studied alive. When a fisherman caught one in his net off San Cle mente, California, Michael and Mimi filmed the first close-ups of a live megamouth (left). Deserving of its name, the 16-footer has a mouth three feet wide-large enough to swallow a man whole. Recalls Mi chael, "He didn't object in the least as I stroked his huge, soft jaws." "SharkEncounters" airs October 4 on EXPLORER, TBS SuperStation, 9p.m. ET. MARKDELL'AQUILA NATIONALGEOGRAPHICEXPLORERAIRS ON TBS SUPERSTATION,SUNDAYSAT 9 P.M . ET . NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSPECIALSAIR ON PBS;CHECKLOCALLISTINGS.