The Bad Biology of Sharksploitation Pt. 6: Environmental Enigmas

By Susan Snyder


There is one thing I got going on, folks. I have a degree in biology with a specialization in sharky stuff. So I know shark habitats. I know what they is and what they ain’t. In 99% of these sharksploitation films . . . they ain’t. 

Let’s explore the bad environments of shark movies, shall we? Allow me to play as fast and loose with latin scientific names as the filmmakers do with science and shit. 

Sharks that don’t need water

(Squalus suffocatus)

Examples: Sharknado, Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, Land Sharks, Sand Sharks, Avalanche Sharks, House Shark, Sky Sharks et al.

I think we can all agree that sharks are aquatic animals. Fish. Fish live in water. Yet there are a ton of movies that just don’t give a shit about that. Usually, there is no rational explanation for these landlubbing leviathans or denizens of deep space. They just burrow and soar through earth, sand, rock and Earth’s stratosphere with no regard for any shred of intellect the audience might have rattling around in their noggins. 

My favorite of all of these is Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! Granted, if you are still watching the franchise by the time they get to a third movie, you are already something of a superhero. Or insane. But enough about me. The genesis of the entire concept of Sharknado hinges on powerful waterspouts that suck up sharks and spit them out upon the unwashed masses. At least there is some moistness in the vortex. 

Then we reach film number three. The funnels have now become super duper ’nados that squirt our beloved toothy fishies into outer space. So what is our finny friend doing up there, holding its breath? Have you ever eaten an astronaut while holding your breath? Try it, I’ll wait. It’s not easy. However, according to the movie, it is possible to safely re-enter earth’s atmosphere without barbecuing your noodle if you do it inside of a shark. Which is totally convenient because space sharks are everywhere. Just be sure to pack a chainsaw. 

Still from Sky Sharks

Not only do sharks slip the surly bonds of Earth, our bright blue skies are filled with them. Despite the noticeable lack of fin flapping, these monsters just kind of glide around. I suppose their aquadynamics translate well to aerodynamics, but c’mon. In Sky Sharks, the steadfast German ingenuity of zombie Nazis gave them the idea to affix jet engines onto the sharks. In my mind, this makes Sky Sharks a veritable Nobel Prize winner for feasibility. Jet engines would make the shark go. For all the other sky-bound sharks, what gives? Are they ghosts? Well, on second thought, they often are. So nevermind. We all know ghost sharks know no bounds. 

According to the collective canon of sharksploitation, sharks also can burrow through terra firma. Even our snowy slopes and suburban bungalows are not safe from the onslaught. Coming back to my original statement on the fact that sharks would prefer to breathe if given the choice, we can allow some leniency to snow and ice. Yes, it’s still a stretch but if you expected 100% scientific accuracy, you’re better off holding a thermometer and setting yourself on fire. In these movies, winter sharks do have some form of water around them. That wouldn’t necessarily help them breathe but let’s assume they have magic gills that convert ice to liquid. Just roll with me on this. 

Soil, sand, gravel . . . that’s another story. Maybe there’s a droplet or two in moist topsoil. Perhaps sand is soft enough to swim through and some seawater remains clinging for dear life onto the fine grains. I’m just saying that traveling at high rates of speed, jaws agape, has to fucking hurt. I’ve gotten a june bug to the face on a motorcycle once and it stung like nettles to nipples! Imagine being a shark and being pelted with dirt and pebbles to the roof of your mouth, not to mention your eyes, genitals, and sensitive gill slits? And what form of locomotion do these sharks have? Do they have a complex underground tunnel system like ant farms? These questions keep me awake at night. 

The main conclusion I come to is that these sharks are fucking hardy.

Freshwater sharks

(Itsastretchus nopus)

Examples: Jurassic Shark, Shark Night 3D, Shark Week, Shark Exorcist, Piranha Sharks et al.

Closely related to S. suffocatus is the freshwater shark that permeates these movies like a flesh-eating parasite. There is an actual basis in the real world for this but very few species can survive in freshwater. There are some real-life river dwellers like the speartooth shark but I assure you, they are fucking adorable. Definitely not pants-shittingly terrifying. The bull shark can travel in rivers and reside in lakes, and lemme tell ya, those things are mean. A couple movies use the bull shark as the antagonist such as Shark Night 3D, but they fucked that up by also having every other shark in the animal kingdom also living in that lake.

Still from Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre

The explanation for freshies is usually based on some sort of rift or crevasse that opens up in a lakebed. An evil corrupt oil drilling corporation or mining outfit has created sharp-toothed hubris of biblical proportions by tipping the balance of nature itself in the name of greed. In the case of Shark Exorcist, a Satanic nun conjures a Great White into a lake, so there’s that too. Most of the time, not always, but most of the time the leviathan unleashed is a giant prehistoric shark which swims, completely unseen, in ridiculously shallow water. Check my math but a 60 foot Megalodon should stick out like King Kong’s erection in only 15 feet of water. In Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre, the river only comes up to people’s ankles yet multiple sharks sneak right up on them. These fish must need a shit load of extra-strength vaseline to keep their skin from drying out. Oh, maybe that’s how they glide so easily through the ground too? My god. I might be onto something. 

Regardless of being slapped in the face with the biological acumen of a tsetse fly, people love sharksploitation movies. I love sharksploitation movies. With a few notable exceptions, the worse the science, the better the entertainment. If only we could live in a real world where sharks could fly and dig their way into our hearts and illustrated field guides. A world where a kiddie pool is a prime environment for a shocking demise. Where sharks could flock together in a mesmerizing V-formation right before they rend our bodies asunder. Where the asthmatic growls of a multitude of devil fish haunt our nighttime skies. Sigh . . . if only. 

Susan Snyder is a writer of horror short fiction and poetry. Broken Nails, her debut poetry collection, was released in July 2020. The short story “Param” which appeared in the Trigger Warning: Body Horror anthology from Madness Heart Press was nominated for a 2020 Splatterpunk award. Her work can be seen in the Horror Writers Association Poetry Showcase and multiple magazines and anthologies. Susan writes a weekly shark movie review blog called Sharksploitation Sunday