Whenever an animal is scary, there are efforts to make them cute or cuddly to dispel any unwarranted fear. Take the fuzzy bumble bee puppet my daughter has, which she remembered the other day when worried about a bee swarming around her hot dog. The fearsome creature on everyone’s minds this summer is the great white shark.

I don’t have a cute cuddly great white story, but I do have fond memories of taking groups of elementary school students snorkeling and swimming with leopard sharks in San Diego. If little kids are swimming with them, you know they have to be docile. Leopard sharks are long and slender with silvery skin and dark spots, hence their “leopard” name. They are usually around 6 feet long and have two dorsal fins and a graceful elongated tail that it pushes back and forth over the sand as it skims the shallows, picking up crustaceans in its downward facing mouth. While the worst that a leopard shark is likely to do to a swimmer is to brush against your leg with its literally toothy skin (shark skin is covered with tiny teeth), they are not so gentle with the crabs and shellfish they crunch through with their powerful jaws.

Great white sharks are one of eight species that live in Maine waters. Photo contributed by Discovery Channel via AP

Swimming with toddlers amidst these friendly sharks in San Diego is a reminder of the fact that sharks can be docile company in the ocean. Of course, leopard sharks are quite different from great whites. But one big difference, and one that makes me less afraid of great whites, is that the friendly sharks, like leopard sharks, are the least threatening, and the fiercest sharks, like great whites, are the most shy. A great white is not going to gently brush by you and then turn around and attack you. Being the kings of the ocean is more of a lonely position for them. They roam solo and are focused on the hunt as opposed to the group behavior of sharks like the leopard shark. One of the reasons that leopard sharks can be seen in groups close to shore is that these are the pregnant females, preferring warm water to speed the development of their babies.

While the focus of shark discussions lately has been on great whites, they are just one of eight species of sharks that live in Maine. From the smallish spiny dogfish, a delicious and often overlooked choice for fish and chips, to the beautiful blue shark which has a striking dark blue back. These are often seen far from shore around offshore islands with the tips of its fins poking above the surface. Then, there is the basking shark, whose name translates as “big-nosed sea monster” and can be as long at 28 feet. They “bask” in the sun, staying at the surface, giving them their common name. They are filter feeders, so certainly not a shark to be concerned about.

Other Maine sharks include the shortfin mako, which can swim up to 43 mph and is a prized (and delicious) game fish; the stout porbeagle, which prefers deep ocean waters; the thresher shark with its scythe-shaped tail that they use to stun fish; and the sand tiger shark, which is the slowest swimmer of the bunch but has fierce-looking teeth that stick out.

While great whites get the bulk of the attention, these other shark species are all worth learning more about. And, it is important to remember that, although fierce, great whites rarely display that ferocity towards humans and are, instead, impressive predators.

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