Monday, September 05, 2005


My son looked out over the lake on the campground we were staying at and shivered. “Dad,” he whimpered, “Are there sharks in the lake?”

My daughter was nearby, had overheard him and answered his question before I had the chance to. “No, stupid.” She said with the intellectual smugness that only a little girl in her first week of kindergarten could possess. “This isn’t salt water. Sharks will die unless they’re in salt water.”

Not liking the tone she had taken, nor the unmasked insult she had thrown at her younger brother, I decided to set her straight and give her a little lesson in Ichthyology. “That’s not true, Sweat Pea. Bull sharks can live in either salt or fresh water. In fact, some scientists think that they have their babies in fresh water rivers or lakes.”

My daughter remained skeptical. “No way, Dad. You’re lying.”

“No, I’m not. They find them in rivers in India all the time.”

Wavering a little in her conviction, my daughter then asked, “They don’t have them in our country though, do they?”

“Yes, they do. In fact, they think it was a bull shark that swam into Matawan Creek in New Jersey in 1916 and killed a little boy, bit the leg right off of another and then ate a man that jumped into the water to save them.” At that, my daughter abruptly terminated her line of questioning, turned and ran as fast as she could back to shore while my son started tearfully pleading for me to follow suit.

In hindsight, I may have been a little overbearing while trying to catch my kids up on the finer points of aquatic zoology but I have to admit that they both now know more about Carcharhinus leucas than their peers and I doubt that they are likely to forget about them anytime in the near future. Still, I probably would not have employed psychological terrorism as a teaching tactic had the three of us been swimming in warmer water and I had not been trying to figure out a way to get them out of it for the past half hour.


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