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Totems: Shark, Part 2

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


The English word for shark may have come from the Mayan word “xoc” pronounced “shock.” Shark images depicting gods were found in Guatemala’s Great Temple in 1978. It makes sense that fishermen were the first to gather data on sharks. In North America, Native Americans used sharks for food, and their teeth for cutting tools. It wasn’t until the 1500’s Renaissance, that knowledge of shark anatomy and habits would advance, and not until the early 20th century, when sharks started to be exploited for their liver oil and skin, did naturalists begin studying them.

Sharks are one of the most successful species on the planet. In Hawaiian tradition, ancestral spirits or the “aumakua” sometimes inhabit the bodies of sharks. All species have ancestors, but the ancestors of sharks have been around for a very long time - around 400 million years. That makes them older than dinosaurs (230 million years) and humans (six million). How long can a shark live? That depends on its species. A Great white can live up to 70 years, while a Whale shark may live to 100, but most sharks live to be about 25. Longevity is part of this totem’s Medicine.

Sharks belong to a class called Chondrichthyes, which are cartilaginous fish, and a sub-class called Elasmobranch, which includes rays and skates. You’d think that such a big fish would have bones, right? Yet sharks have cartilaginous skeletons. Cartilage is a type of connective tissue that gives a body great support but is softer than bone. If you put your hand to your ear or the tip of your nose, you are feeling cartilage. Those with a shark totem usually have great flexibility of mind and body.

Sharks are both loners and also gather in groups (think feeding frenzy). Humans with this totem need both time alone and social interaction. If both are balanced, one may often feel quite peaceful. If not, one may become frenzied or irritable. Remembering that angry words can inflict great damage, can save guilt and regret later. If someone directs negativity towards you, as long as there is nothing for it to hook into, it can’t affect you. Your fearlessness also serves you in other areas of your life, if you are willing to forge the depths of your subconscious.

Sharks have five to seven gill slits on each side of their heads. When some shark species swim, water passes through the mouth and over the gills. Specialized blood vessels within absorb oxygen. This is called “ram ventilation.”  Other shark species developed spiracles - nostril-type openings behind the eye, which they use to pump water over their gills, even when sitting still.  Over time, White sharks lost their spiracles. Because of this, Whites as well as Reef sharks are considered obligate ram ventilators, meaning they must constantly swim in order to move water over their gills to breath. However, when it comes to sharks, there seem to be exceptions to every rule. There’s a place in Mexico called the Cave of Sleeping Sharks, where high levels of oxygen and low levels of salt allow a massive amount of Reef sharks to lie motionless.

Dogs shed fur; sharks shed teeth. They can shed thousands of teeth during their lifetime. Teeth are replaced frequently. New ones immediately take the place of the lost ones. Yet, all those teeth don’t even chew. They are there to rip flesh, which is then swallowed whole. A shark can exert up to 40,000 pounds of pressure per square inch with its bite. Those famous jaws unhinge - upper and lower – enough to swallow a seal whole. We humans can only move our lower jaw. A shark can also fling its jaws out in front of its snout, so that its teeth hit its prey first. When their bottom jaws unhinge, it allows sharks to create a vacuum to suck in prey. When a shark dies, all its cartilage, skin, organs and skeleton dissolve by virtue of the salt in the ocean. Only its teeth are left.

Sharks have blue eyes? Yes, and they also have really sharp vision -10x more sensitive than humans - but similar in structure: a cornea, iris, lens and retina. Like a cat, a shark’s eye has a unique structure called a tapetum lucidum, a series of reflective plates at the back of the eye, which gives their photoreceptors a second opportunity to absorb light. This allows them to see well in dim light, as well as in color and detail. That means that they have great night vision. The Medicine here is that whatever we do is reflected in our lives and in our environment. Sharks hunt mainly, and more aggressively at sundown and at night. They have countershading, which is darker coloring on top and light on the bottom for camouflage, so they can blend in, either with the darker water or the sandy bottom. It also makes it difficult for prey to see a shark coming. 

In addition to being able to taste with their mouths, sharks have pit organs all over their bodies, which can also taste; so you might say that sharks can taste the water as they swim.  Marine biologists have found that sharks may rely heavily on their olfactory sense to help them navigate over long distances in the ocean, using nares, (nostril-like features), and also tiny pits in their snout called ampullae of Lorenzini, which enables sharks to detect the electric fields given off by all living things in the water. Tiny charges are produced by heartbeats, or by movements of muscles.

Their ears are inside their heads, not outside. Their hearing is excellent, plus sound travels better through water. Those with this totem have a heightened audio capability. Their perceptions may be clairaudient or clairvoyant. If it doesn’t sound right and look right to you, don’t participate. Does someone or something have you by the tail? Does your intuition tell you that it’s time to move on from an old situation that has kept you confined or held back? Are you aching to assert your independent spirit? Is it time to move on to a life where you feel more exuberance? Perhaps you’re prone to procrastination. If so, with shark as your guide, do what you must to stir the energy, and get it moving, even if it is not your ultimate course of action.

Shark sex is rough. (Guys reading this: don’t try this at home!) Though females are often bigger than males, the female gets cut and scarred during mating, while the male tries to hold on. For this reason, female sharkskin has evolved to be about twice as thick as male sharkskin. Males have two claspers, though only one is inserted into her cloaca. Once inserted, the clasper uses (ouch) spurs, to lock things into place until after mating. The hanging claspers are how we can tell male sharks from female.

 Shark babies are called pups. Sharks reproduce every one to three years, and they don’t even begin to reproduce until they are over ten years old. Great Whites don’t start to mate until they are 14 feet long. Depending on the species, the gestation period is anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Females deliver in water nurseries. Nurseries are areas where mom sharks go to give birth. These have fewer predators, places to hide, and good food sources for young sharks, so pups often stay there for weeks, or even years. Mom sharks don’t stick around. The number of pups varies widely in different species. Some sharks lay tough, leathery eggs called mermaids’ purses, straight into the water; others reproduce live young attached by an umbilical cord. The third way is that some keep their eggs inside their bodies. Developing baby sharks eat the yolks in the womb. Tiger sharks have two wombs, giving birth to as many as 60 pups. If this is your totem and you’re a mother, be sure to invest a lot of time and energy in your children as they grow. If your mother had shark as a principal totem, you may have been given up for adoption right after your birth. If so, your karmic challenge may involve a lot of forgiveness.

Occasionally, a female shark may reproduce without sperm from a male (parthenogenesis) or, more than one male in a single mating period may impregnate her. This produces litters of “half siblings” with different fathers. That is, if more than one survives. During pregnancy, the largest and most developed embryo will feed on its siblings.  This is known as intrauterine cannibalism or adelphophagy, derived from Greek, meaning “eating one’s brother.”

There is still so much to know about sharks. All their biology is fascinating, but I feel the three most fascinating things about them are their ability to heal themselves, their part in saving human lives, and their extremely sensitive electroreceptor system. If you are in the healing professions, shark is a valuable ally. You may have heightened sensitivity. Like shark, with powerful electroreceptors that can detect the tiniest fluctuation in a heartbeat, you may be able to pick up from a client, the truth of their hearts, thereby helping them to heal. At the very least, your shark ally will help you hone in on what the client needs to be whole again.

Their ability to heal themselves: I watched a video of a shark around Dyer Island, South Africa, that was almost cut in two, probably by a boat propeller. Over a 9-month period, the shark’s wound healed; only a scar remains.
Saving human lives: There’s something else about sharks that may prove to save many lives: hospital acquired infections alone kill almost 100,000 people a year. Thousands of teeth-like scales called dermal denticles make it almost impossible for living organisms to attach and grow on its surface (you never see a shark covered in algae or barnacles, do you?)  Biomimicry seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies. Biomimicry engineers have developed synthetic sharkskin surfaces to place on frequently used surfaces in hospitals, cutting bacterial growth by over 80%. (See *** at the end of this article).

Electromagnetic sensitivity: to the electrical impulses that all living things give off.

They hunt by extreme sensitivity to movement and vibration, by their bioelectric scanner, a long tube running laterally down the sides of the body from tail to snout, and around each eye. Cilia (tiny hairs) receive signals that travel to the brain.

So, in their own way, sharks carry profound healing energy. If you have shark as a totem or are in its sway, you are probably attuned to the Moon and her phases. The Moon’s pull on the ocean during certain phases causes sharks to feed closer to shore. During this time, you may seek emotional fulfillment, or be more susceptible to the pull of your emotions.

***Sharklet technology inhibits bacterial growth through pattern alone. Drawing inspiration from the shape and pattern of the dermal denticles of sharkskin, the Sharklet surface is a man-made material that comprises millions of microscopic features arranged in a distinct diamond pattern. The structure of the pattern alone inhibits superbugs like staph and drug-resistant bacteria from attaching, colonizing and forming biofilms; so they die. Sharklet contains no toxic chemicals, and uses no antibiotics or anti-microbials.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a Healer, Writer, Minister, Advocate and Steward for the natural world for over 40 years; author of this column for 16 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Training, or her Book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


 


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