Why Don't You See Great White Sharks in Aquariums?

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iStock

The great white shark is one of the most iconic creatures in the animal kingdom. Its fearsome reputation has earned it starring roles in books, blockbuster movies, and countless TV documentaries. But while they’re ubiquitous in pop culture, there’s one place where you won’t find these apex predators, and that’s behind the glass walls of an aquarium.

Many aquariums are home to sharks, including species like nurse sharks and sand tiger sharks. But the most famous member of the group, the great white, is almost always missing from the lineup—which isn’t for a lack of trying. As Vox illustrates in the video below, aquariums have a long and unsuccessful history of trying to keep great white sharks in captivity.

Institutions like SeaWorld and San Francisco's Steinhart Aquarium housed great whites in the '70s, '80s, and '90s—the decades following Jaws mania. But each attempt was met with the same problems: The sharks had trouble eating and swimming, and just generally acted unwell from the moment they arrived. A white shark that lasted more than a week in an aquarium was an anomaly.

While many fish, including sharks, easily adapt to life inside a tank, those same walls often turn out to be fatal for great whites. That’s because the species has evolved to travel fast and for great distances through the open ocean. When kept inside enclosures, the sharks tend to ram into walls and injure themselves. Sometimes they stop swimming altogether, and for an organism that needs water constantly flowing over its gills to breathe, that can lead to a quick death. Experts also suspect that being surrounded by glass might either confuse or overload the shark's electroreception system, which is used to sense the electrical signals given off by fish in the open ocean, not necessarily inside a glass box.

In 2004 the Monterey Bay Aquarium proved that with a large-enough tank and intensive support, a great white could survive in captivity for an extended amount of time. But even the system they developed worked only for smaller baby sharks, and even then it didn’t stop every specimen from bumping into the glass. (The shark that fared the best was released after 198 days, not due to her own health issues but because she had attacked two other sharks.)

Monterey Bay stopped hosting the sharks in 2011, but aquariums around the world are still attempting to support great whites without taking the same level of precaution. Last year, an aquarium in Japan announced the acquisition of a 11.5-foot male, the first adult great white ever held in captivity, only for it to die three days later. No matter how awesome they may be to view in person, fans should probably stick to watching great whites during Shark Week.

[h/t Vox]

The Time German and Russian WWI Soldiers Banded Together to Fight Wolves

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iStock.com/567185

During the winter of 1917, Russian and German soldiers fighting in the dreary trenches of the Great War’s Eastern Front had a lot to fear: enemy bullets, trench foot, frostbite, countless diseases, shrapnel, bayonets, tanks, sniper fire. Oh, and wolves.

In February of that year, a dispatch from Berlin noted that large packs of wolves were creeping from the forests of Lithuania and Volhynia into the interior of the German Empire, not far from the front lines. Like so many living creatures, the animals had been driven from their homes by the war and were now simply looking for something to eat. “As the beasts are very hungry, they penetrate into the villages and kill calves, sheep, goats, and other livestock,” the report, which appeared in the El Paso Herald, says. “In two cases children have been attacked by them.”

According to another dispatch out of St. Petersburg, the wolves were such a nuisance on the battlefield that they were one of the few things that could bring soldiers from both sides together. “Parties of Russian and German scouts met recently and were hotly engaged in a skirmish when a large pack of wolves dashed on the scene and attacked the wounded,” the report says, according to the Oklahoma City Times. “Hostilities were at once suspended and Germans and Russians instinctively attacked the pack, killing about 50 wolves.” It was an unspoken agreement among snipers that, if the Russians and Germans decided to engage in a collective wolf-hunt, all firing would cease.

Take this July 1917 New York Times report describing how soldiers in the Kovno-Wilna Minsk district (near modern Vilnius, Lithuania) decided to cease hostilities to fight this furry common enemy:

"Poison, rifle fire, hand grenades, and even machine guns were successively tried in attempts to eradicate the nuisance. But all to no avail. The wolves—nowhere to be found quite so large and powerful as in Russia—were desperate in their hunger and regardless of danger. Fresh packs would appear in place of those that were killed by the Russian and German troops.

"As a last resort, the two adversaries, with the consent of their commanders, entered into negotiations for an armistice and joined forces to overcome the wolf plague. For a short time there was peace. And in no haphazard fashion was the task of vanquishing the mutual foe undertaken. The wolves were gradually rounded up, and eventually several hundred of them were killed. The others fled in all directions, making their escape from carnage the like of which they had never encountered."

Afterward, the soldiers presumably returned to their posts and resumed pointing their rifles at a more violent and dangerous enemy—each other.

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