Coastal Americans are 75 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to perish in a shark attack, but that doesn’t quell the seemingly endless fascination with the sharp-toothed creatures of the deep. Depictions of sharks in the movies range from classic thrillers like Jaws to the absurd cult flick in which a cyclone sucks the predators into the air and onto the streets of Los Angeles. For the record, Sharknado maintains an 82% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
With Shark Week underway, television audiences are devouring daily programming on the Discovery Channel, where the longest-running cable television event is in its 29th year.
The only logical next step is to commemorate the aquatic killers with the ranks of U.S. presidents and Disney villains, and that is exactly what the U.S. Postal Service has done. Sharks Forever stamps are available this week with five different species that lurk in American waters.
Although their popularity stems from their perceived monstrous hostility, USPS’s Jeffrey Williamson reminds shark enthusiasts of their pertinent place in nature: “As apex predators, sharks keep other marine life in balance, and by doing so, they play a critical role in regulating our largest ecosystem — the oceans.” Sharks have been patrolling the deep for a long time: about 450 million years. That’s twice as long ago as the appearance of dinosaurs. Since the Silurian period, sharks have developed some striking adaptations, including regeneration of teeth as needed and electroreceptors that sense electricity for navigation and hunting prey.
Despite these terrifying abilities, people incur more damage to shark populations than the fish could ever redress. In 1941 fisherman Wallace Caswell, Jr. detailed his combat tactics against sharks in the wild in the Post story “I Fight Sharks.” It is highly discouraged that anyone follows Caswell’s advice to experience “the satisfaction in killing these villains in bodily contact,” but the report sheds light on a bygone era that vehemently glorified Man’s struggle against nature. Much has been learned since 1941 regarding a shark’s anatomy, and, contrary to Caswell’s claim that “a shark has a tiny brain and an elementary nervous system,” his combat opponents have been found to possess large, complex nervous systems. Given long-standing misconceptions regarding sharks, the USPS hopes to contribute to a deeper and wider appreciation of these fascinating fish with its new stamp series.
The Sharks Forever series features the mako, thresher, great white, hammerhead, and whale sharks in illustrations by Brooklyn artist Sam Weber. Collectors and ocean enthusiasts can purchase the postage stamps immediately, and they’ll soon be swarming the country on snail mail.