I love sharks. Therefore I love Shark Week on Discovery Channel. I’ve eagerly waited for and watched every Shark Week for at least 10 years. I even have a Great White tattoo. But something has started to change in the past few years of Shark Week. I don’t know if ratings are slipping or Discovery is just struggling to find new content for these week long specials, but it seems to me that the majority of the episodes have changed in tone to make shark’s look big and scary and something to be afraid of. More reminiscent of Jaws then conservation.
Let’s get one thing straight, sharks are big and can be scary and are certainly dangerous if you surprise them, have a fish they’d like to snack on, or if you are generally being stupid in the water with one of these animals. They are predators. The ocean is their domain. Respect that.
But I go to Discovery to learn and impress my friends at bars with my random shark facts. I did not study sharks in college but Shark Week kind of makes me wish I had or at least lets me pretend that I did. What I don’t need Discovery to do is add to the fear mongering that already plagues these animals.
I’m not going to review every episode, there are over 15 and you don’t need me to give you the play by play (unless you want me to, and if you do, let’s do this!). Anyway, some episodes are better than others. Like “Tiger Beach” where I learned a lot about Tiger sharks that I didn’t know before, like where the females go to hang out to get away from the male shark’s before they are sexually mature or after mating. Sounds nice right? A place where only us ladies are allowed to hang out to get away from horny dude bros? Sharks know what’s up. Or “Blue Serengeti” where a group of Stanford researchers team up with other marine wildlife experts to figure out where the sharks that visit California come from and go to in order to protect the waters these animals migrate to and from. There you get a really clear picture of just how devastating finning is to the shark population and why international waters need to be protected in a similar fashion to the Serengeti from poachers.
See? That’s cool! That’s interesting! The scientist got into some tense situations where they were outnumbered and the sharks were in an agitated state but the episode wasn’t about that. It did an excellent job of showing the audience that hey, these are trained scientists and they know that this is a dangerous situation. They aren’t freaking out. They are not being dramatic about how the sharks could kill them (fun fact: they could). They are showing why this is dangerous and what to do in that situation and then GETTING OUT OF THAT SITUATION as soon as possible not just for their own safety, but the shark’s as well. It shows the level of respect these massive predators deserve, is educational, and shows me something totally new about sharks.
You take something like that and then follow it up with episodes that, even from the title, I know are going to be salacious at best. Using words like “monster” to describe a shark’s size instead of “massive” or referring to every episode with a Great White shark in it as “Jaws”, or even worse “Shark Serial Killer” when really, the episode was trying to figure out why large Great White Sharks would migrate up to Oregon when there is no seal colony for them to feed on. So why was the episode called “serial killer”? Because along that migration path, surfers had been attacked. Roughly 6 over the course of 10 years. That’s less than 1 per year.
Shark Week and Discovery Channel have strayed dangerously far away from the educational and preservation tone that had me fall in love with sharks decades ago. Now, a new generation of FINatics, as the network likes to call them, are growing up with a fear of sharks rather than a desire to learn and protect these incredible creatures.
Discovery channel focuses mainly on 3 species of sharks, with the Great White front and center. On the last few shark weeks, all they really focus on are Great Whites, Bull Sharks and White Tip Reef Sharks. This year they branched out a little with episodes dedicated to Tiger sharks and Mako’s but episodes like that are becoming increasingly rare.
There are so many species of sharks I’d love to learn more about, Discovery! Tell me more about Spinner sharks who jump out of the water and, you guessed it, spin like ballerinas in the air! Educate me on Bronze Whaler sharks or Lemon sharks! Introduce me to the Crocodile shark (yes, that’s a real thing)! Or spend more time following the majestic Whale or Basking shark around. Focus on something new and different rather than trying to pump some forced drama into episodes around the same few species of sharks. Yes, they are crowd favorites and I love watching Great Whites jump through the air while hunting. But who knows, maybe an episode on School sharks will give rise to a new crowd favorite.
My point is: stop doing crap where you pretend a Megaldon Shark is lurking somewhere in the ocean (it’s the Loch Ness of sharks, really cool to make stories about but essentially just that, a story). Stop going into this downward spiral where shark’s become monster’s again under a thin veil of scientific research. Focus on what makes sharks amazing predators. Show me something new and demonstrate why these apex predators need help.
I still try to live every week like its shark week, but I implore you, Discovery Channel: put the discovery back in the forefront of this. Thank you. I’ll get off my soap box now.