National Aquarium Napier Hawkes Bay Attraction
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Phone: 06 834 1404
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Shark Attack

Levels: 1 and 2
Science, Living World: Life Processes and Ecology

Get up close and personal with our sharks. Do sharks really deserve their bad reputation? Take a look, inside and out, and discover the truth about one of nature's most feared predators. Explore the similarities and differences between sharks and other fish. Discover how a shark's anatomy places it at the top of the aquatic food chain.
For more information enquire here or call the National Aquarium on 06 833 5424.

To begin your students thinking about their trip to the National Aquarium of New Zealand send them a large envelope. Include a letter from Sharky inviting them to visit the aquarium and lean about sharks.
Prior Knowledge Brainstorm
Have students share their views on what they know about sharks. Encourage the students to think about different species, structure and function and sharks as predators.
Students could record their ideas in the left-hand column of a chart similar to the one below. The remaining columns could be filled out during the unit to track and focus student learning. This could be done independently or as a whole class exercise.
What Do You Know?    What Do You Want to Know?    What You Learned
Alternatively students could record their ideas on the What I know about Sharks worksheet.
Sketch a Shark
This activity could be used for pre and post unit assessment. At the beginning of the unit have students draw a shark and label all the parts they can. After your visit to the National Aquarium have the students repeat the activity. The My Shark Drawings worksheet could be used for this activity.
Amazing Shark Facts
The Amazing Shark Facts worksheet contains twenty-five statements about sharks. Students need to decide whether they agree, partly agree or disagree with each statement. This activity could be used to ascertain the students prior knowledge, or as an assessment task at the end of the unit. For younger students the worksheet could be enlarged for whole class discussion.
Shark Fact File
Students can use the Shark Fact File worksheet to record what they know or what they find out about sharks during the unit of work. Students can write or illustrate in the boxes what they learn about sharks. The topic headings are listed below:
  • Sharks look like
  • Sharks live here
  • Sharks like to eat
  • Sharks move like this
  • Shark babies look like this
  • Sharks protect themselves by
The Anatomy of a Shark
Look at a range of pictures of sharks. Have the students begin to identify the different parts of sharks. The essential parts for the students to identify are the fins; caudal, dorsal, pectoral, pelvic and anal, the gill slits, the lateral line, the mouth and the claspers (if it is a male shark). As a summary to the student discussion and observation students can complete the Anatomy of a Shark worksheet. Teachers can refer to the Anatomy of a Shark - Answers to assist if necessary.
Compare a Bony Fish to a Cartilaginous Fish
Broadly speaking there are three main groups of fishes,
  • Agnathans - lampreys and hagfishes; fish without mouths or jaws.
  • Cartilaginous - sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras; fish with a cartilaginous skeleton, up to seven gill openings, fins that do not fold, no swim float bladder, and either no scales or scales that do not overlap.
  • Bony Fishes - hard internal skeleton, a single pair of gill openings, fins which can be raised or lowered, and usually a swim float bladder.
In this activity students can find out and observe the differences between a bony fish; a Butterfly Perch, and a cartilaginous fish; a Seven Gill Shark. Sketches of a Butterfly Perch and Seven Gill Shark can be printed from the Bony Fish and Cartilaginous Fish Comparison sheet.
Each fish will have its own circle headed with the name of the fish and characteristics that are unique only to that fish and not shared by the other. The intersecting part of the circles will contain characteristics both the fish share.
An example is outlined in the table below.
Butterfly Perch Shared Characteristics Seven Gill Shark
- single gill opening - 2 eyes - bones are made of cartilage
- has hard skeleton - 2 pectoral fins - long streamlined body
- laterally compressed, rounded body shape - 2 pelvic fins - eyelids present
- no eyelids - 2 dorsal fins - male has claspers
- small mouth - 1 anal fin - large mouth with regenerating teeth
- false eye spot in middle of body - 1 caudal fin - countershading, dark on top and light underneath
- forked caudal fin - scales
Function of Parts of a Fish
The Functions of Parts of a Shark worksheet can be used to explore the function of the different parts of a shark. Students can connect the boxes, matching the part of a shark with the description of its function. These may be glued into the student’s exercise books.
Shark Species 
Brainstorm with the students the names of different species of sharks. Discuss how the sharks might have got these names. A lot of different shark species names come from other animals, look at photographs and pictures of different sharks and see if there are any similarities between the shark and the animal they are named after.
The Sharks with Funny Names, the Shark Species Word Find and the Sharks great and Small worksheets can be completed by the students to support this activity.
Shark Teeth
Write on the board; ‘Sharks are excellent predators’.
Discuss with the students what this means using some of the questions below:
  • What is a predator?
  • What are some other animals that are excellent predators?
  • What parts of a shark’s body make it very good at catching and eating prey?
  • What do you know about shark teeth?
  • What sort of teeth do sharks need for eating their dinner?
  • What do you use to cut up your meat before you can eat it?
Shark teeth, although they differ slightly between species, are excellent at cutting and tearing the flesh of other animals.
The Shark Teeth worksheet examines four different species of sharks and the different action each of these teeth can perform.
The Spiny Dogfish Shark has a number of small teeth that work rather like the teeth of a saw which move opposite each other to cut through flesh of small fish quickly and efficiently.
The Seven Gill Shark has teeth with a large number of serrations, very similar to a saw or a dinner knife. Depending on their size Seven Gill Sharks will eat large or small fish.
The Eagle Ray has teeth that crush their prey with a similar action to a nut cracker. Rays eat crabs and other crustaceans from the sea floor.
The Mako Shark has sharp, pointed teeth that work much like a dagger, piercing and puncturing their prey then shaking their heads several times to break their bite free. Depending on their size Mako Sharks will eat large or small fish.
Filter Feeding
Some sharks such as the Whale Shark and Basking Shark eat by filtering plankton – tiny plants and animals – from the water. They are called filter feeders and have thousands of teeth that are used to filter the plankton from the water.
Activity:  Add some pieces of gravel, dirt and sand to a bucket of water. Pour this mixture through a sieve into another bucket. Observe the materials caught in the sieve. Obtain a circle of soft paper, eg. blotting paper, filter paper or newsprint, and fold into quarters and push your finger in between the folds to make a pocket. Put the pocket into the funnel and pour the water through it into the other cleaned bucket. Look at the material that has been caught by the paper.
This demonstrates to the students the action of filter feeders. They suck in water, filter out the bits of food and squirt out the filtered water.
Sharks, unlike bony fish, do not have a swim bladder to assist with buoyancy. A shark’s liver is very large in comparison to the rest of its body, 5 – 25% of total body weight. The liver stores oils and fatty acids, which are less dense than water and therefore assist with buoyancy. It is important to note that sharks will sink if they stop swimming so the liver only assists with buoyancy to a limited extent.
Activity: Experiment with oil floating on water and relate this to how it assists a shark with buoyancy.
Shark Sizes
In the playground draw lines the length of the following sharks.
Whale Shark                           12m
Basking Shark                        7.5m
Great White Shark                     6m
Hammerhead Shark                 3.3m
Wobbegong                              3m
Mako Shark                               3m
Dogfish                                 0.9m

Label each line with the sharks name and have the children make comparisons between the sharks. The following questions could be answered.

  • What is the difference in centimetres between the smallest and biggest sharks?
  • What are these two types of sharks called?
  • How many children lying end to end does it take to equal the length of the biggest shark?
  • The Great White is the most dangerous shark to humans yet it is not the biggest.
  • Why is the Whale Shark not more dangerous if it is bigger?
A Shark’s View
After visiting the National Aquarium of New Zealand students could use the A Sharks Eye View worksheet to write a story about what the sharks think about when they look at us from inside their tank.


Download these resources:
Resource MS Word (DOC) Acrobat (PDF)
Sharky Envelope
Letter from Sharky   Download
What I Know About Sharks Download Download
My Shark Drawings Download Download
Amazing Shark Facts Download Download
Shark Fact File Download Download
Anatomy of a Shark Download Download
Anatomy of a Shark - Answers   Download
Bony Fish & Cartilaginous Fish Comparison   Download
Functions of Parts of a Shark Download Download
Sharks with Funny Names Download Download
Shark Species Word Find   Download
Shark - Great and Small   Download
Shark Teeth Download Download
Older Students Workbook Download Download