We Need to Talk About Shark Week

We Need to Talk About Shark Week

Yes, it is that time of year again, Shark Week; the Discovery Channel’s annual week of all things shark. Growing up in Canada, I was in my late teens when Shark Week began in 1987 and I looked forward to it as much as Halloween, Christmas and my birthday. My Dad and I would be riveted to the TV and we would inevitably learn something new about sharks each year. Even though they often repeated the same documentaries, there was usually something new and the old documentaries were so good, we looked forward to watching them again.
I don’t have pay TV here so I haven’t seen Shark Week for many years. I was home in Canada a few years back and caught some of it and I was shocked by the difference in tone. I remember Shark Week as being very educational with interviews with ichthyologists and marine biologists and oceanographers. What I saw a few years ago were staged re-enactments of shark attacks complete with buckets of red dye in the water and screaming people in the surf. What had happened to my beloved week of shark television?

The chatter online seems to agree with me. The programme seems to have lost its educational and entertaining edge and has instead lowered itself to a shark version of Current Affair-style infotainment complete with speculative editorialising, vilification and scaremongering. It’s not that Shark Week has become anti-shark, it’s that it has become pro-fear.

Shark Week needs to get itself back on track or risk tarnishing its 27-year history. Most of the footage now involves speculation of the existence of Megalodon or staged or actual footage of ‘attack’. I find more useful evidence of shark behaviour by watching YouTube amateur divers videos of their peaceful encounters with sharks. No fake blood or sensationalising needed.

I recently had a Skype chat with my family back in Canada and they told me that this year was particularly dire – my 13 year old nephew could see through the hype and recognised the staged settings and manipulative editing used in these so-called documentaries. I have even heard that an actor posed as a marine biologist in one show. What has happened?

We are all scratching our heads, wondering what went wrong with an institution we all loved so much from our youth. The answers are unclear and probably varied with mostly financial implications for the change. If it bleeds it leads is still front and centre it seems, even on a science-based pay TV channel. The turning away in disgust is evident by most I have spoken to and so it seems that Shark Week has well and truly jumped the shark.

Sept 13, 2014

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