Carcharodon carcharias is the Latin name for the great white shark and actually means the "Jagged-Toothed One."

When people hear the word “shark,” they often think of monstrous man-eaters patrolling the open ocean. But for Richard Salas, area photographer and Brooks graduate, sharks are just the opposite: He sees them as highly adaptive and curious animals, the “misunderstood marvels” of the sea. On Thursday night at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, Salas not only presented his photographs of these majestic animals but also sought to describe to his audience the lives they really lead and the plights they often endure.

With the help of a shark hand puppet, Salas invited his audience to “start a new relationship with these animals,” and began by describing the interesting history and adaptations of the shark. “Sharks have been around for over 400 million years,” he began as the room became silent with curiosity. “That’s 100 million years before the dinosaurs. … They were here before there were trees and before there were insects. And over those 400 million years, they’ve really been able to identify what their food is.” He went on to describe the ways in which sharks have gotten their bad reputations from movies, mystery, and fear, and that if they really were interested in making us their food, we would know it: “There are about seven to 10 fatal shark attacks in the world every year, and that’s not very many considering how many people are in the water.”

Richard Salas
Annie Crawley

Salas then described a number of interesting adaptations sharks have developed that helped them survive all five of the extinction events that devastated the planet throughout their existence. “They have these little receptors around their nose and around their head,” he explained. “They’re electro-receptors, and, as they swim over an ocean bottom, they are able to pick up electrical signals from muscle constrictions and find an animal even though it’s buried beneath the sand.” He then described how many sharks use “ram ventilation” to breathe underwater, by “push[ing] the water into his mouth over the gills. The gills then extract the oxygen, and that’s how he breathes. So all day, all night, all week, all year, forever the shark is moving.”

In describing the eating habits of these animals, Salas emphasized that “they are curious animals” but “we are not their food.” Sharks typically prefer to eat sea lions, elephant seals, and, even more commonly, fish that are already hurt or sick. “Sharks clean the ocean of sick fish and hurt fish, and they keep the schools healthy and don’t let them get too big, or else it off-balances the entire ecosystem.”

The problem, though, is that “we are better at killing them than they are at killing us,” and as a result their numbers are steadily declining, Salas stated. “Some scientists will say that their numbers are down 90 percent over the last 50 years,” he said. “That’s a lot.” He then went on to describe common fishing methods such as longline fishing and trawl nets, which are harmful to sharks and other marine life. Since these methods are not target-specific, they result in “great amounts of by-catch which include albatross birds, dolphins, turtles, and sharks.”

For the last half of his presentation, Salas gave the audience an up-close and personal view of the sharks he had been describing through his daring and expressive photography. His photographs included gray reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, horn sharks, and whale sharks — among others — which vary in size from three feet to more than 40 feet long. During his trips to places like the Channel Islands and the Galapagos Islands, Salas has encountered sharks of many shapes and sizes and has only grown to admire them more. “I really believe that these animals are allowing me to be near them, they’re allowing me to be in their space,” he said. “All of these animals can easily swim away … so it’s an honor to me to be able to be so close to them.” And it is because of this opportunity to be so close to such incredible animals that Salas decided to “be their voice” and share their story with others through his photographs.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.