It should come as no surprise that the forces behind The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week have focused on sensationalism and drama to boost ratings, just as any other network. Described as the “Super Bowl of the ocean,” Shark Week brought in an estimated 40 million viewers last year and shows such as “Island of the Mega Shark” and “Return of the Great White Serial Killer” are credited for creating that big draw. Filling a need for thrill-seekers and shark aficionados alike, Shark Week has seemed like a big win for everyone, but now shark researchers and scientists are beginning to feel misrepresented.
Marine biologist Jonathan Davis is among those scientists criticizing The Discovery Channel and their Shark Week programming. Davis reports that he was working on a program called Voodoo Shark a couple of years ago, which was being produced by one of those eager for the sensationalism seen in past years of Shark Week.
“One of the guys was like, ‘Oh, maybe you should just let it bite you, that would be so exciting,'” Davis told NPR. “And I was just thinking to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? You really think I wanna let the shark bite me just for ratings? Are you serious?'”
Discovery’s Shark Week hit its lowest point two years ago, according to the scientific community, with a mockumentary about a 100-foot, 80-ton shark. The program, Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, promoted the megalodon shark as the “serial killer of the seas,” but there was just one problem with the the “highest-rated show in Shark Week history.” According to experts, the megalodon shark has been extinct for one million years.
This year, The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is returning to science with shows focusing more on education and less on sensationalized entertainment. Shark Week producers have pledged that this new focus will mean no more fictitious stories, such as was seen in Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.
Still, The Discovery Channel is dependent upon ratings and there has to be something to draw in those millions of viewers, so Shark Week will be out on the hunt for the world’s largest great white shark. In this case, it means searching the waters around Cuba for what rumors claim has an “allegedly a 21-foot, 7,000-pound great white” swimming its depths.
The change in programming for Shark Week seems to be coming at the perfect moment, or, at least, that is what many experts are hoping. Stories of recent shark attacks on the shores of North Carolina and southern California have resulted in the demonization of sharks. Scientists hope Shark Week‘s changed programming will be a good step in educating the public.
[Featured image courtesy of Amos Nachoun/Barcroft USA/Getty Images]