Can sharks drown if they stop swimming?
Shark week circulated in April, yes, but we’re not out of the deep just yet. Many vacationers are spending their sunny summer days swimming and splashing in the same salty pool as these prehistoric aqua-beasts.
While vacationing in Corpus Christi when I was about nine years old I recall my beloved Grandpa Bachman cleverly coaxing me to finish off my hour-cold scrambled egg breakfast before sand and swim time by crafting a tall-tale remedy. We are from Texas, ya know.
As he often did, he gently leaned over my shoulder looking side to side as if to relay the greatest secret ever and whispered, “Christie, you know that sharks don’t like cold scrambled eggs either, don’t ya?”
“Yeah?!” my eyes locked on his in naive amazement.
“Yeah! That’s right. So if you eat all of these cold scrambled eggs, then the sharks will smell them in your tummy and swim away from you,” he assured me.
Without delay I consumed every chilly chunk of my swim-time shark repellent.
Along the lines of such tall tales we often also hear that sharks can drown if they stop swimming. I have always wondered if that is a myth, so in honor of summertime beach combers on vacation, I checked the facts.
So . . . can sharks drown if they stop swimming?
The verdict: yes and no.
According to the American Museum of Natural History’s online article, “Sharks and Rays: Myth and Reality,” only some sharks die if they stop swimming.
As discussed in Discovery.com’s “Do sharks need to swim constantly to avoid drowning?”, some sharks today, like their ancient kind, do not need to move to “breathe” because they use buccal, or cheek, breathing techniques. For a decent diagram and explanation of how these lucky sharks use their spiracles to push water past their gills so they can sit still and “breathe,” go here.
Many modern sharks cannot do this, however, and use ram ventilation – fast swimming – to push the water past their gills. If they were to stop, well . . . we assume they would die, BUT scientists are finding stranger things happening where even these sharks are found resting in caves and so forth. The mystery is ever-evolving and unsolved as to which sharks must move nonstop.
Interestingly . . . just as every super hero has their weakness, the shark appears to have its Achilles’s heel — yet not all of them. The nurse shark is one of those that can be still and perform the buccal breathing technique.
Beyond this creepy talent, sharks in general likewise possess a magnificently uncrushable skeleton made of cartilage and the ability to travel from deep depths to surface water quickly without popping or being crushed by the pressure changes (unlike boned skeletal fish with swim bladders).
This is truly impressive. They are truly impressive. Why, they are almost invincible!
We should all be impressed and seriously follow Grandpa’s advice — always eat your cold scrambled eggs before swimming at the beach.