Shark Week on Discovery Channel hit a tipping point this summer. It’s become a very popular and anticipated media event in past years, and Discovery has worked to exploit that to the fullest. I do not begrudge Discovery Channel from trying to capitalize on sharks, but I do have a few problems with their technique, and I’m not the only one.
It’s no secret that Sharks have a Public Relations problem, and the exploitation Discovery uses to attract viewers is simply put, fear mongering. This year, more than ever, I saw scientists and divers alike speaking out against this fear mongering and blatant lying that Discovery Channel uses to attract views. We’ve reached the tipping point for shark week: enough people are sick of the lies and want truthful information spread instead of what we’re being fed.
Sometimes, they’re just flat-out lying. (Read this excellent article on IFLS for more details) Scientists are being misquoted, and their words used against them. As all reality shows do, words and phrases are used out of context and speakers are baited into saying things. Like this “Will you please say “60 foot great white shark to the camera?” “Did you say 60 foot great white shark? That is unheard of my dear boy!” Can easily turn into SIXTY FOOT GREAT WHITE SHARK? HE ATE MY DEAR BOY. But why call a myth a documentary? Why put a myth on a channel called “Discovery” with the reputation of…..learning shit?
Fear mongering: Doesn’t it seem like everybody and their mother is bit by sharks on Shark Week? Shows that focus on the small amount of people who do get bit incorrectly tip the balance into making it seem more likely, more possible, more common. In reality, You are more likely to get in a car accident/bit by a dog/get malaria/think perms are a good idea than you are to get bit by a shark, but I don’t see sensationalist TV shows about THOSE monstrosities. Seeing “Top 20 Shark Attack stories” on repeat does make it seem like stepping into the ocean is akin to walking across a busy street.
Related: Humans kill 100 million sharks per year. Due to shark finning, commercial fishing, trophy fishing, and drift nets, sharks have a lot more reasons to fear us than we have to fear them.
Because here’s the thing: Sharks are AMAZING on their own without lies.
Here’s some things Shark Week could focus on that sticks to the facts:
How sharks have evolved SINCE BEFORE THE DINOSAURS.
The decline of shark populations in the ocean.
Illegal shark finning.
What happens to the oceans when sharks disappear: (hint, bad stuff)
Comparing endangered shark statuses to other more conventionally cute animals: For instance, Short Fin Makos (the fastest sharks in the ocean) are considered threatened. This is the same status as Polar Bears.
The Extremes of sharks: the fastest sharks, the slowest sharks, the biggest sharks, the smallest sharks, the sharks that dive the deepest or travel the farthest, the sharks that live in the coldest water, the sharks that can swim in both salt water and fresh water, the sharks that hunt together, the sharks that hunt alone. I’m not talking about mythical shark creatures here, like a 60-year-old hammerhead in the bayou (spoiler alert, false), I mean, using facts, the reality of amazing sharks!
Extinct sharks: lots of species have gone extinct, and continue to do so daily. Let’s see some shark fossils and artist rendering of awesome extinct sharks.
Cuz the thing is: people love sharks! People are fucking crazy for sharks! They’re big wild animals, they appeal to our basest survival instinct and our love of storytelling! They live in a place that we DO NOT. They are EXTREME on the spectrum of apex predators! We don’t get to SEE THEM THAT MUCH! Why does the story even need to be fabricated to make it interesting? It certainly does not need to be.
This year, I watched one show on Shark Week. Shark after Dark. A talk show. It consisted of two celebrities promoting a movie about being pretend cops and a very uncomfortable looking marine biologist who kept spacing out (probably because everyone was ignoring him). When they finally DID ask him a question, he looked so stunned at the attention, he botched his answer. It was like “TOKEN SHARK SCIENTIST (SHARKENTIST?)” on a show that was named for sharks on a Channel that was dedicated to sharks for the week. I was forced to turn the tv off.
And head to the ocean in my personal attempt to humanely interact with the sharks that actually are left in the ocean.
Please, take Shark Week with a grain of salt, and encourage others to learn the amazing truth about sharks in the hopes that the Discovery Channel will shift Shark Week in the right direction.
-Merbabe & Tibby (Tiburon)
PS: Notes from Malcolm Gladwell, “The Tipping Point”. “What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. …
…that’s why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable.
But if there is difficulty and volatility in the world of the Tipping Point, there is a large measure of hopefulness as well. Merely by manipulating the size of a group, we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas. By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness. … Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push-in just the right place-it can be tipped.”
Afterword: All pictures stamped Sea in Focus are from underwater photographer Michael Zeigler at Sea In Focus.
All photos marked as Dudley are Credit and copyright to Dudley C. McLaughlin www.photographydude.com and on FB, Studley McDiver.
Thanks to these amazing photographers for sharing use of their images free of charge in the movement to Tip the public’s perception in favor of shark conservation and in the general idea that Sharks are Awesome.