We were all young and stupid once. But for today’s youth, the thrill of smoking under the bleachers after school has been replaced with something much more reckless and even deadly. Emily Porter was one of those kids. Raised in a suburb of a major California city (unidentified here at the request of her parents who relocated after the incident detailed below), Emily’s high school days were filled with “regular kid things.” She was involved in student government, her school band and even played field hockey her freshman and sophomore year’s of school. But that all changed in the summer between her 2nd and 3rd years when Emily attended a local house party and was introduced to the latest high school fad. It’s called “SharkJarring” and it’s more prevalent than you might think.
The basics of SharkJarring (also referred to as “Jaws Frenching” or “the Deep Blue Secret”) are simple:
- Before a party, a small jar is filled with raw steak, covered with a surgical glove and placed into the ocean tied to a rope in hopes that a baby shark will break through the glove and into the jar to get the steak and become trapped.
- Once the shark is caught, teens take turns inserting their tongues into the top of the jar in hopes that the shark will latch onto it thus releasing massive amounts of endorphins eliciting a euphoric state for the bitten party-goer. The longer you allow the shark to take hold, the longer the high lasts.
SharkJarring isn’t a new creation but it is new to California’s quiet, beach-front communities…or at least it was until Emily Porter brought it to the attention of a stunned community. Emily and her friends had obtained a SharkJar from an acquaintance to use at a party that Saturday night, something they’d already done two or three times before that summer. “We wanted to celebrate,” Emily recalls, “it has been a long week of sitting at the food court judging other teen girls and not eating so we just really wanted to cut loose and having a baby shark bite the tip of your tongue until you almost pass out is just the best way to do that.” Sadly, it would be a night they would always remember but not in the way they’d hoped. Details from the night change depending on who you ask. What is clear is that when Emily and her friends started pulling the shark completely out of the jar while still attached to their tongue to do shots (a party technique referred to as “Jabberjawing”) things began to get out of hand. Before anyone could react, the shark had become dislodged from Emily’s tongue and fallen onto the table in front of her. In what’s been described as “a single, cat-like motion” the shark flopped from the table onto the nearby neck of Jackson Coultard, barely missing his carotid artery as it attached.
It took paramedics 20 minutes to arrive on the scene and another 10 to get the tiny shark’s jaws unlocked from the teen’s neck. Jackson was lucky to be alive and spent weeks recovering from the ordeal although now, months later, claims that it was “all totally worth it because of this wicked scar.” Authorities thought otherwise. Emily was charged with unlawful possession and intent to distribute of a shark and is currently serving 8 months in jail. Her story became an overnight sensation with the local media and was picked up nationally within a week. Her parents were chastised in the media for not knowing what their daughter was involved in (most famously by conservative commentator Glenn Beck who claimed the shark itself proof of a” communist plot to use sea creatures to corrupt America’s youth”, a claim he later retracted). In an effort to put it all behind them, the Porter’s picked up their family and moved away from their home of 22 years. It’s something that Emily regrets to this day. “Having my mother and father be forced to leave our town all because I wanted to stick my tongue into a jar and have a tiny shark bite it seems like such a waste now…such a waste.”
But sadly, the Porter’s are not alone. As detailed in the documentary “Teen Tongues and Tiny Sharks: The Jackson Coultard Story”, over 68% of kids between the ages of 11 – 18 have been offered a SharkJar at a party or no one some who has been. It’s a problem that worries both police and environmental officials. “You get these kids, hopped up on shark, that are just out of control. We’ve had to double security at all aquariums and exotic pet stores,” reports Santa Cruz police chief Thomas Blankenship. “It’s like they’ve got no g** d*** respect for their bodies anymore. Today it’s tiny sharks in jars biting their tongues, next week’s its cigarettes. Then where are we?” EPA spokeswoman Margret Harding seems equally bewildered, recently quoted as saying “Really? Kids are trying to get tiny sharks in jars to bite their tongues? I mean, you can’t be serious.” And the problem only stands to grow in the next 10 years.
As more and more communities add aquariums and “Sea World”-esque attractions to their amusement parks, teenage SharkJarring seems ready to explode into a coast to coast phenomenon. Reports of SharkJarring incidents have popped up in 17 states in the last year with the heaviest concentration still belonging to coastal regions like California, Florida and the very bored teenagers of the great state of Hawaii. Popular culture seems unwilling to address the problem and in fact, only stands to make things worse with the release of pro-SharkJarring songs like “Just Nip the Tip” by rapper Xhibit (ft. John Mayer) and “Lick, Shark, Surprise” by the usually socially conscious Black Eyed Peas. Recent movies have glorified the practice and it’s even begun showing up on reality shows like “The Real World” (blurred out by MTV censors).
With all of this pressure on teens to experiment with SharkJarring coming from peers and media, what can parents do to fight back?
- Look for the Warning Signs: Does your teen come home smelling like seawater? Are there small drops of blood (or “shark gems” as they’re referred to) on the front of your teen’s shirt? Does your child have a newfound interest in marine biology? These are all clues that your kid may be SharkJarring or at least hanging out with others who are already “hitting the Hammerhead.”
- Talk to your kids about SharkJarring: No parent wants to sit down and talk with their child about something as outrageously dangerous as sticking your tongue in a jar so a tiny shark can bite it, but if you don’t talk to your kids about sticking their tongue in a jar so it can be bitten by a tiny shark someone else will. Studies show that 42% of teens wish their parents had talked with them about SharkJarring before they found out about it for themselves from that kid that time at lunch.
- Offer your child protection: In response to the outbreak of SharkJar-related injuries, stores like Target and Walgreens have begun carrying products like “MetalMouth” and “TongueTied” which are two brand names for the chainmail tongue covers used by scientists studying the SharkJar phenomenon. While some parents worry that purchasing a chainmail cover for their child’s tongue is like giving them a license to try SharkJarring, most experts agree that giving kids the option to protect themselves does not increase first time SharkJar use. (UPDATE: Johnson and Johnson recently pulled their “TongueTied” product from store shelves after independent researches found unsafe levels of lead and chromium in some models. Parents are urged to check the Johnson and Johnson website for updates on the affected chainmail tongue cover models.)
- Get your kids involved in other activities: Studies show that kids who are involved in constructive afterschool programs are somewhat less likely to get involved in dangerous SharkJarring situations. Although there are always exceptions (like Emily and the now infamous “Great White Debate Night” incident that left 2 Tallahassee model UN teens with Perforated Tongue Syndrome [or PFTS] last fall), kids who are in positive learning environments have a greater chance of never giving in to the primal urges that drive others to SharkJar.
- If you need help, get help: If you’re reading this article and you’re the parent of a teen that’s already heavily involved in the seedy SharkJarring scene, it’s not too late. Just as the problem begins to show signs of becoming an epidemic, support groups and rehabilitation centers are popping up around the country. Landmark rehabilitation center Promises, former home to celebrities like Britney Spears (who’s 2010 arrest for SharkJar possession was recently downgraded to a misdemeanor fish license violation) and Courtney Love, recently began offering treatment for those who feel they’ve let their SharkJarring habits get out of control. If you’re the parent of a child who’s been caught SharkJarring, chances are there’s a support group in your local area as well.
It seems like SharkJarring is here to stay until local, state and federal law can catch up to this newest teenage party drug. “In the 80′s it was coke, in the 90′s it was speed…and now it’s tiny sharks in jars. It just all comes with the territory,” said Chief Blankenship. “Nothing really surprises me anymore.” But authorities aren’t all taking it so lightly. Recently, state and local officials have started attacking the problem in other ways with local laws banning everything from the sale of glass jars to minors to requiring all hospitals to keep rubber gloves under lock and key. While the crack downs seem to have an immediate effect on local SharkJarring problems, resourceful teens seem to always find ways around them, sometimes resorting to catching the tiny sharks barehanded or using even more dangerous materials like aluminum foil or those roasting bags you get at the grocery store as seals for their SharkJars.
Some want to see the practice legalized altogether with calls for SharkJars to be sold and taxed along side things like cigarettes and alcohol. Recently, the FDA received applications for approval of commercial SharkJar products from both the Anheiser Busch and Gorton’s corporations. But others worry that the commercialization of SharkJars would only lead to the same problems currently faced by other mass market food preparation organizations in America today. “Imagine a world full of factories full of tiny sharks being slid into tiny jars and sealed with rubber gloves,” says animal rights activist Jessica Cermes. “Is that really a world that you want to live in?” Anheiser Busch spokesman Eugene Valore sees things a bit differently. “By legalizing SharkJars, we can guarantee the public is getting two things that they’re not getting with the homemade SharkJars you see all over the new today: quality tiny sharks in quality jars and flavor options in their choice of rubber glove covers. Everything from our beef bullion SharkJar we’re calling ‘SharkJar Tartare” to our fun, fruity concoctions like our ‘Juicy Jaws’ line of summer sippers. Given the chance, we’re going to change the face of people sticking their tongues in jars to let tiny sharks bite their tongues.”
One thing is certain, Americans from San Diego to Bangor, Maine are bracing for a summer that’s already been dubbed “the bitiest” in our nation’s history. Parents, law enforcement and school administrators in Santa Cruz, one of the hardest hit areas in the initial SharkJarring craze have started a group called P.A.T.S.I.J. (Parents Against Tiny Sharks in Jars) that they’re hoping will become a nationwide support network for affected families. “It’s the absolute least we can do, so why not?” said parent Jeremy Ruiz after a recent meeting. Whether you believe that SharkJarring should be illegal or if you’re ready to stick you tongue in a jar and let a tiny shark bite it to get that quick high, you have to admit that you never really saw this one coming…seriously.
(Editor’s Note: Recently, I made a joke about parents having to worry about kids sticking their tongues into jars and letting a shark bite it at parties. Then, I made the comment that I could write 2,000 words about it. This is the result of that idiotic statement…and it’s 2002 words…not counting these.)