The U.S. Postal Service will celebrate the wonder of sharks by issuing the Sharks Forever stamps featuring five species that inhabit American waters — the mako, thresher, great white, hammerhead and whale sharks.
Possibly no other creatures are as mythologized — or as misunderstood — as sharks. Blockbuster thrillers and sensationalized media have fueled the belief that sharks are monsters: unthinking, bloodthirsty, vengeful and primitive. While they are ancient creatures, having emerged long before the first dinosaurs, after 400 million years the 500 or so known shark species have adapted to their ecological role.
Sharks’ adaptations include light, flexible skeletons of cartilage, teeth replaced without limit and skin covered by a hydrodynamic surface of tiny tooth-like structures. Their keen senses include one that detects electrical signals given off by prey and enables navigation by Earth’s magnetic field. Their nervous systems are also adapted to sense miniscule water movements, such as the struggles of a far-off fish.
An athlete of the shark world is the swift, streamlined mako shark. The stamp image depicts a shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) knifing through the water near the surface. The most distinctive feature of the pelagic thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) is its unique, whip-like tail fin, seen trailing in the distance of the stamp image. The great white (Carcharodon carcharias) epitomizes sharks in many peoples’ minds. The world’s largest fish is the sluggish, filter-feeding, school bus-sized whale shark (Rhincodon typus). The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), featured in the hammerhead shark stamp, is one of three large hammerhead species.
Stamps per Pane: Pane of 20 (5 design)