Shark Week 2014 has come and gone, and with this year’s installment, Discovery has managed to bring in some of the the highest ratings of its 27 year history, though some contend that the network’s success comes at a price.
Last week’s shark extravaganza, an annual outing for Discovery since 1987, topped the charts with adults and women 25-54, and women 18-49, Deadline reports. Although Shark Week averaged 2.48 million primetime viewers, down slightly from last year, it still ranked No. 1 for the week in all of TV with men 18-49 and men 18-34. Shark Week also grew in key female demographics, providing Discovery with the network’s highest rated week in its history among women 18-49. Despite the utter dominance of Shark Week, however, some scientists involved with Discovery’s annual event have spoken out against not only its hyperbolic direction, but also the methods the network employs.
— ExpandedPerspectives (@ExpandedP) August 19, 2014
Of all the criticism leveled at Discovery by the scientific community, possibly none is as galling as the assertions of Jonathan Davis, who now works for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Featured in Voodoo Sharks during this year’s lineup, he claims that the network’s producers have been deceiving scientists about the programs for which they are filmed, io9 reports. Through ambiguous questions and selective editing, Davis asserts, Shark Week producers were able to make it appear that he believed in, and was searching for, a monster shark called “Rooken,” the subject of Voodoo Sharks. In reality, he was studying bull sharks in the Gulf of Mexico for research toward his Masters. “Had I known they would combine it with those ridiculous fishermen to make a show about a mythical shark,” Davis says, “I would have had some serious second thoughts about participating.”
Kristine Stump, a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Shedd Aquarium, claims that she experienced similar deception at the hands of Shark Week producers. “The basic premise was a camera crew was dropping in on real scientists doing actual hammerhead research,” she said, adding “We’d talk about the research goals and the challenges we face in trying to achieve those goals. Monster Hammerhead does not match the description of what we filmed.”
Sean van Sommeran, of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, points out that while Shark Week was more focused on conservation from its inception up until the late 1990s, “Now, it’s big game trophy fishing, extreme sports diving and science fiction monster sharks that sink ships in the night. The science highlighted is wildly speculative and harmful.” He criticized Discovery for their portrayal of sharks as dangerous beasts rather than real wild animals:
“The science-fiction stuff [on Shark Week] doesn’t help sharks in the least, and the science is all too often speculative and contrived. Moreover, it often involves injuring the sharks needlessly.”
Alastair Bland, writing for NPR, points out that “viewers of 2014 Shark Week have watched with titles like Alien Sharks, Zombie Sharks, Sharkageddon, Great White Serial Killer and Sharkpocalypse, and Americans are devouring it.” In what Bland calls “perhaps the worst of Shark Week’s programs,” mythical giant sharks are presented to viewers as factual, extant animals. While Discovery received heavy criticism for a megalodon documentary in 2013, they returned with a follow-up this year, as well as Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, as The Inquisitr has previously noted.
Despite her deception at the hands of Shark Week producers, Stump asserts that scientists should remain engaged with the network, pointing out that while editing is out of their control, they can still be effective with their own statements. “By being involved, I could have the opportunity to be a voice of real science amid an otherwise sensationalist line-up,” she added. “If we want to make a difference in Shark Week, then be the difference.”
[Image via Bing and The Times-Picayune]