The next time you see the menacing teeth and gaping jaws of a great white shark, don't be alarmed. Just remember: There's good money to be made off that animal.
Indeed, as we approach the end of what Time magazine dubbed "The Summer of the Shark" in a splashy cover story, it's worth pondering just how many ways there are to make money from the feared predators.
The shark is in fact a kind of media cash register, a menace of the seas but nonetheless a friend of entrepreneurs around the globe, including some who have probably never dipped a toe in dangerous waters.
Waiter, There's a Shark Fin in My Soup
In the first place, the shark-fishing business is booming. Untold millions of sharks land in fishing nets every year, and to the outrage of conservationists, many have their fins hacked off and are tossed back in the ocean to die a (presumably) painful, crippled death.
Why? Well, shark fin soup is a delicacy popular throughout the Pacific Rim and pricey to boot. It'll set you back $30 at the Hong Kong Flower Lounge, a restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif.
"A set of fins for a basking shark will bring in upwards of $1,000," says Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif. "There are stories about fisherman dumping tuna overboard to make room for sharks, because they bring in more money."
There are about 101 ways to eat a dead shark, and you don't need to be rich — or a Wall Street shark — to sample them all. You could also try shark tacos for $9.50 at Bergin's Shark & Rose in San Jose, Calif., or a more old-fashioned mako shark steak for $18.95 at a restaurant called, well, The Shark, in Ocean City, Md.
And shark fishermen are determined to meet the demand.
"There are no unexplored parts of the planet," adds Van Sommeran. "People have global positioning satellites, and they've mapped out plans from Japan to Madagascar to the Galapagos Islands, and they're going for every species."
Nigel's Wild, Wild Cable Modem Week
But sharks mean good money on dry land, too. Take the folks at the Discovery Channel, which aired its annual summer series of shows on sharks earlier this month — that would be Nigel's Wild, Wild Shark Week, in case you missed it. Sure, host Nigel Marven loves sharks. But so do the cable channel's executives and accountants.
According to Nielsen Media Research, the Discovery Channel's shark week shows got an average rating of 1.1, more than double the channel's norm in June and July. That's why the Discovery Channel used Nigel's Wild, Wild Shark Week as a vehicle for an ad blitz this time around, urging the audience to buy cable modems and digital cable. In turn, cable companies displayed ads telling users they could only see the Discovery Kids Channel by ordering digital cable.
But then, it's no secret to media executives that audiences love shark stories, especially during a slow-news summer like this one, with Congress on recess and President Bush vacationing during much of August. Many news outlets — including ABCNEWS.com and ABCNEWS television shows — have given substantial coverage to the recent spate of shark attacks, mostly in Florida.