‘Shark Week’ Returns: Does It Portray Sharks As ‘Dangerous Killers’?

Shark Week, Discovery’s annual celebration of all things related to the ocean’s most feared predators, returns to TV August 10th, but this year’s round of specials are already garnering criticism for the network.

Despite Discovery’s efforts over the years to insist that sharks are a vital part of the ocean’s ecosystem, The New York Daily News reports that this year’s incarnation of Shark Week reinforces the image of the predators as “dangerous killers.” Some of the titles scheduled for Shark Week include Top Five Eaten Alive, airing on Monday, and Sharkbite Beach, following up on Tuesday, both at 10 am.

Shark Week has become so popular that it has spawned several imitators. SyFy’s shark celebration reached its peak this past week, with the release of Sharknado 2: The Second One, while Nat Geo Wild’s SharkFest is scheduled for next week to compete with Discovery. Not to be outdone, Nat Geo Wild plans to air programs such as Shark Kill Zone and When Sharks Attack.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research in Gainesville, views the annual Shark Week festivities as a double-edged sword, USA Today reports. According to him, the programs are more likely to hurt the public’s perception of sharks than they are to educate:

“I’m kind of disappointed, and I think most researchers are, too. It obviously is a big draw, but I’m afraid that the programs have gone more to entertainment and less to documentary over the years. It’s kind of a shame, because they have the opportunity to teach good stuff in what’s going on with science.”

Burgess says that sharks are “exciting enough that you don’t have to go for least common denominators, which so often are blood and gore or animals performing tricks. I think a lot of people believe that what they see on Shark Week is all fact.” Many times, he claims, “the shows are poorly documented or poorly represented or things (are) done as pseudo-science.”

Discovery is no stranger to criticism of its Shark Week programming. As The Inquisitr previously reported, the network experienced massive backlash for a mockumentary focusing on the megalodon shark which aired last year, relying on fictional evidence and paid actors. Despite its dramatized nature, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives was the highest rated program in the history of Shark Week, inspiring a sequel that will air this year, titled Megalodon: The New Evidence. Yet another special, Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, will explore sightings of a massive great white shark off the coast of South Africa.

Last month, Discovery was forced to admit that viral footage of a shark in Lake Ontario was actually a Shark Week promo, after the purported sighting raised alarms amongst Canadian authorities. While the incident served its promotional purpose, it also led to even more criticism of the sensationalism that now surrounds Shark Week.

[Image via Forbes]