Our Amazing World: Strange Animal Bevaviour
by Joe Selzler
One of the most frightening sights I can imagine is that of a Great White Shark with its jaws wide open. To look into that mouth with its rows of razor sharp teeth sends shivers down my spine. I know that I am not the only one with that sort of fear. Just go to any beach in the world and cry out "shark" and watch how fast the water clears of swimmers. But we don't have this fear for nothing. We have all heard of the shark attacks that take place every year and we have seen many pictures of human beings with chunks of flesh torn out of their sides, legs or arms. We also know that many people have been killed by sharks. Many of us have heard the famous story of an American warship crew who survived the sinking of their ship only to be completely wiped out by a school of sharks.
A shark is a very menacing looking creature. Many Hollywood film directors have used this look and the shark's reputation to scare us all out of our wits. Perhaps the most famous and scariest shark scene is that of the dorsal fin cutting its way through the water as it heads for the intended victim. If they put instruments on the audience to measure pulse rate and sweat these instruments would probably shoot past the high zone and go right off the scale. If you are a Hollywood director and you need a scary scene for your movie a shark will definitely fill the bill.
During the last few decades of the twentieth century and into this one sharks have been getting a closer look by scientist. Sharks are being tagged and followed in their natural environments in order to understand how they live and reproduce. Some sharks have become endangered over the past few years and scientists want to understand them better so that they can be protected. Lately, in their studies, biologists have determined that sharks are not as bad as they are made out to be. For instance, attacks by the Great White, which were once thought to be just pure acts of aggression, are now seen as possibly just a case of mistaken identity.
The main course for a Great White Shark meal is a seal. Apparently, a man on a surfboard paddling through the ocean can appear from the underside to be the outline of a seal. It could be, therefore, that the shark simply believes it is just helping itself to its normal dinner when it has attacked human beings. This doesn't mean sharks are harmless or generally not dangerous. Indeed many sharks are very dangerous. It is good to keep a healthy respect for these creatures anytime you find yourself in a situation where they might be present. Like any wild animal they are unpredictable.
One of the more dangerous sharks is the Lemon Shark. It is a voracious eater and will eat fish, crustaceans, rays, mollusks and other sharks1. They have also been responsible for a number of attacks on humans over the years. But there wasn't much known about them for many years, except what could be discovered from the carcases of ones that had been caught by fisherman or had washed up on beaches. However, as biologists have been studying more and more sharks a lot of details about the Lemon Shark have been collected. One of the most amazing details is that of the shark giving birth.
Apparently the sharks give live birth. But there is more. As the baby sharks (pups) are born they quickly scurry away and find cover. This is because the mother is such a voracious eater she would eat them as soon as they are born.2 But wait, there is even more. Biologists have discovered that something in the mother shark's body causes her not to have an appetite while her pups are born, giving them all a chance to safely find cover. That something is a hormone that suppresses her appetite during labour. The hormone itself is secreted by a gland that was discovered long ago but whose function scientists could not understand until recently.
This truly is an amazing characteristic of the Lemon Shark. If you believe that we and everything else in our universe came about by chance you are only left to wonder how this could happen. If you believe that this developed in the Lemon Shark by chance you are left asking yourself two questions. Did the shark develop this strange behaviour in response to all of its young getting eaten, or did it develop this before it started having young? If you go for the former then you are left with a miracle. That is, "It's a miracle all of the young didn't get eaten and the species die out." However, if you go for the latter you are left asking why a shark would develop a safety mechanism to save its young before it needed it?
The truth is the Lemon Shark as a species was given this trait before it started reproducing -- otherwise it was impossible to ensure it would survive. In the beginning our Creator put man on this earth to rule over it and have dominion over it. (Genesis 1:26-31) However, our ancestors, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God and chose their own way instead. And when they fell, says Paul in Romans 8:20a, all of creation was subject to decay and bondage. Many of us look at this world and we think we are seeing it as it has always been. But we are not! We are only seeing a dying and decaying shadow of its glory which it had when its ruler, man, was still right with God.
Our Creator, who is outside time and who sees all things and knows all things, was able to look from the beginning to the end of his creation in one eternal moment. In that one moment he was able to see that Adam would rebel and that the rest of creation would be subject to death and decay along with him. Therefore, in his love, which he has not only for man but for all of his creation, he gave the female Lemon shark the gland that would produce the hormone that would suppress her appetite and save her pups.
The Lemon Shark was not meant in the beginning to be a voracious eater -- she became so because of our rebellion. But God has given that species a way of saving its young. The truth is, he loves you and me so much that he has provided for all of our needs already, even before we have those needs. Remember the words of Jesus of Nazareth, "Are not two sparrows worth two cents and does not your heavenly father clothe them? Of how much more value are you than they?" When did he do all of this? From before the foundation of this world. From before he even spoke one word to bring it into existence. And he did it all in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ.
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