Shark Week is known for instilling excitement, wonder, fear, and fascination in people and their feelings towards sharks. Last night, Discovery Channel aired a, what I found to be pretty interesting show entitled "The Return of Jaws". The show focused mostly on a group of researchers who used some ground breaking technology to follow great white sharks just off the coast of Chatham, Mass. The team used a robotic submarine camera to follow large great whites to study just how close these animals are coming to shore.
Surprising to some, New Jersey is home to seals in the winter time. What does this have to do with anything? Quite a bit actually. During the fall, great white sharks migrate from the north down to Florida. During that time, the seals migrate from the north down to states such as New Jersey, which is why during the fall, there are often several great whites spotted off the Jersey Shore. During the spring as you might be able to guess, the opposite happens, the seals move north and the sharks follow. The summer home of both sharks and seals in areas such as Chatham has caused more and more people to become wary about swimming in those waters. This is where these researchers come in.
Using that robotic sub, the researchers were able to see great whites swimming in as little as 3 feet of water while stalking seals. It was really interesting to see how these animals on a daily basis appeared to move up and down the coast, not bothering any people whatsoever. Then, of course, is where the show changes and that need to not just be an interesting documentary shows up. The screen turns to a flashing ambulance light as a swimmer was bitten by a shark off of Chatham. The show that had virtually nothing to do with shark attacks, except for the occasional mention that these studies could potentially help beach patrols make beaches safer, suddenly became focused on a very minor shark attack. The person who was bit by the shark received, if memory servers, 24 stitches. No severed limbs or anything like that, just one bite and the shark was gone. Of course there was no mention of there being just one bite and the shark vanishing. That final few minutes of the show once again brought into light what I think the real reason for Shark Week is.
At this point I believe that Shark Week is a week long Hollywood wanna be program. Virtually every show makes mention of the name Jaws and even if it doesn't, in some shape or form, it involves sharks biting people. There are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part, these are facts, just take a look at the names of some of this year's Shark Week Programs. The Return of Jaws, I Escaped Jaws, Spawn of Jaws, Sharkpocalypse, The Top 10 Deadliest Sharks. Where in those names is there even a hint that there will be some form of education to be had? Nowhere. Obviously that wouldn't make people tune in, so titles that sound like B level Sci-Fi movies are used and sure enough, the audience is drawn in. It is no secret what the movie Jaws did to the reputation of sharks around the world. That damaged and undeserved reputation continues to stick in the minds of many people and Discovery Channel is doing nothing to help ease that by naming these shows in this way. The content of the shows themselves aren't much better than their names. Lots of blood, lots of attacks, and a wee bit of science and an occasional 15 second conservation thrown in to try and make everyone happy. It's not hard to figure out what the intended audience is though. It's not the people who are interested in learning the truth about sharks, that is evidenced twice already this year by taking a very interesting show about tracking great whites and giving it a pretty frightening name and throwing in shark attacks. It is also evidenced in the Megalodon show as many of the images and "video" appear to not even be real. If those people had video proof of Megalodon, do you think it would still be labeled extinct?
It is understandable from a business standpoint as to why Discovery would market Shark Week in this fashion. I'd be shocked if even a quarter of the people who watch Shark Week on a nightly basis would tune in if there was no blood, no violence, and no cool show names to lure them in. At that same time, there is so so much more Discovery could be doing to help promote shark conservation through the week. For example, how much would it realistically cost to put up graphics at the end of a show that states a truly harrowing fact? That by the end of Shark Week, up to 4,500,000 sharks will be killed. Would it truly be so hard for Discovery to do that? Why can't Discovery do more than show a 15 second conservation message (to which I have yet to see this year) about finning? If Discovery truly had any interest in protecting these animals they wouldn't be so quick to make them out to be such monsters. Shark Week rolls on tonight with two more shows featuring Jaws! One can only assume that these shows will further instill fear into people and make them want to never go into the Ocean again, but more importantly, instill fear for an animal that has done nothing to warrant the reputation that has been forced upon it.