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First aired on July 27, 1987, Shark Week has become an annual event. It is now broadcast in over 72 countries and last year over 30 million viewers tuned in worldwide. This is a fantastic forum to discuss the current plight of sharks, to discuss the 100,000,000 being killed each year, and to explain the latest findings from scientists and conservation groups.
But, with a line-up such as “Great White Invasion,” “Jaws Comes Home,” “Rogue Sharks,” “Top Five Eaten Alive” and “10 Deadliest Sharks,” I am not sure viewers receive a balanced understanding of shark behavior and their complex niche.
Peter Benchley’s widely-read book turned blockbuster, “Jaws,” certainly entrenched terror into people. This widespread, inaccurate and sensationalized bad public relation story was the reason behind many shark hunts and many senseless deaths. Today I still meet people who refuse to go into the ocean due to a phobia instigated by “Jaws.” Is Discovery Channel’s Shark Week merely taking this scenario to the next level, instilling fear into millions around the world? Will people be inclined to protect sharks if they believe they are merely patrolling, killing machines?
Making this an even more interesting debate, most people will never have a first-hand shark experience. Very few people have SCUBA certification, the access and the inclination that would lead them into the water to observe sharks on their own. They rely upon scientists and filmmakers to bring stories back to them.
The alternative viewpoint is interesting and strong. Why doesn’t Discovery Channel have a Butterfly Week? Clearly, this is because sharks have the capacity for drama and mystery that will keep an audience riveted for an entire week. Discovery Channel is a for-profit business. They try to attract as many people as they can to their line-up. They have a proven formula: “jaws and claws” sells.
How should Discovery Channel handle future Shark Weeks? Do they have an obligation to use some of the Shark Week exposure and momentum to educate their international audience about the exponentially growing threats? Should they dedicate time slots for public service announcements that discuss the perils of shark finning and shark fin soup?
Discovery Channel is not under any obligation to produce educational programming. They are accountable only to their shareholders. However, if they do not start using their media to shift international perspective, if they do not allocate at least a portion of their resources toward supporting governments protecting sharks, if they and others in powerful positions do not wield their success to seek out and implement solutions that will protect sharks, Discovery Channel will lose their ability to cash in on their success because Shark Week will need to be moved to the History Channel.
The California petition is good only in California.
If you really want to help, go to Discovery's page, their Facebook page, etc., and tell them you want equal time for shark conservation, why we need these apex predators, and the atrocities man has waged against the shark.
"Equality of opportunity or equality of outcome?
One is consistent with a free people and the other requires a police state. Pick one." ~Cool Hardware52
I, alone, am responsible for my health and safety, my actions and inactions.
"If a small thing has the power to make you angry, does that not indicate something about your size?" ~Sydney J. Harris
Every summer, the Discovery Channel's Shark Week enrages shark enthusiasts with its sensationalist programming while simultaneously exposing 100 million people to sharks that might never have given a darn otherwise. It is easy to be offended at the all teeth and no conservation nature, but remember that we as divers experience sharks in ways that few can. Without the air-jaws and dental shots accompanying horrific stories that inspire wonderment and intrigue, sharks would just be another slimy fish to most people. By providing programming that targets a community composed primarily of shark enthusiasts, TDC would be preaching to the choir while completely missing the people that need to care.
Sharks have seen enormous steps toward conservation since 1987. Seasave's roots for example trace back to 1995. Before then, the only exposure sharks got was via Jaws. As a result of this relatively new movement to save sharks, we are starting to see laws in support of our cause. Hammerheads, sandbars, oceanic whitetips and lemon sharks are protected to varying degrees in the Atlantic. Hawaii and now California have or are enacting bans on selling shark fin soup while other places are limiting or disallowing the catching of sharks altogether. Nobody cared before 1987. I applaud these enormous steps and attribute them at least in part to Shark Week.
The Discovery Channel is providing our plight with a huge service by lending their incredible film-making skills to hit an audience with a magnitude that none of us can. Therefore, I would love to see more conservation education programming, but not at the expense of viewership. At the same time, I'd like to thank all of you for caring enough about about the plight of sharks to spend part of your otherwise busy days discussing it on forums like this and with your peers. This momentum is incredible, let's keep it going!
This was the first year I considered actually watching "Shark Week" because I had heard it had changed its focus from sensationalism to a more balanced presentation. As it was, I was too busy editing video from my dives to remember it was on and I don't have TV at home.
To present sharks in the manner that Discovery Channel has done in the past (from what I gather by reading posts in threads here on the subject), I think it has been doing a GREAT disservice to the viewing public. I don't mind a little focus on sensationalism to draw viewers in, but that is generally NOT what sharks are about. The damage to ecosystems from temperate kelp forests to tropical coral reefs caused by the decimation of sharks world-wide should be a story with enough interest to viewers if told properly. To feed them cr@p about attacks and the danger of being in the water with these incredible fish is a total disservice IMHO.
I've dived with a number of shark species from temperate waters to the tropics. I've never experienced anything I'd call threatening on their part. Heck, a few years ago when I was buddied up with Wyland we had a 14 ft great white swim between us. I didn't see it because my back was turned.
The one time I can remember being mildly freaked about was when a juvenile sea lion started cozying up to me as I was offgassing towards the end of a dive. It had a decent sized bite mark that was releasing fresh blood. I quickly made the assumption it had been hit by a white, or possibly a large mako, and decided to head back to the boat in case the shark came over to see how dinner was.
I didn't mean to imply that their views of sharks were accurate by any means. The only times I've really felt nervous it was from a tiny cookie cutter shark. That and the time I was swimming alone with an oceanic whitetip without a boat anywhere nearby. My point is that the general public won't watch Shark Week if it is a bunch of us on our conservation soap boxes. We care about what is actually going on under the waves enough to study it and visit it with expensive equipment. Most people don't study the underwater environment. They might have a passing interest, but anything too deep will turn them off. Real scientists tend to make terrible public speakers because we are too worried about telling the accurate truth. The truth is people want a good story, not a reason to cry into their pillows at night.
So if we want to make a difference with a defiantly ignorant public, we have to give them mostly what they want. They won't back conserving a species for the sake of conserving it. Sharks aren't furry or cuddly or considered particularly cute. However they are incredibly powerful, graceful animals with some highly sophisticated apparatus. People can respect that. Mix this with some played up mystique and build sharks into a sort of character, and you have a good case for shark conservation.
I haven't watched Shark Week in years either. I'm comfortable with the idea that I am not its target audience. From what I have seen, most of the programming consists of shark/human interactions (mostly overplayed BS) with a sprinkling of a shark conservation message thrown in. Sure we want more message, but most people don't.
Why am I suddenly taking TDC's side? I recently had a friend message me out of the blue on Facebook interested in shark conservation. This person hasn't spent any significant time underwater. She never went to college. She spent a considerable amount of her life taking her clothes off for a living. And she cared because she had just finished watching Shark Week and learned that some of the largest Great Whites are found immediately offshore of New England where she lives. Something is working.
I have spent the last 42 years out here on Catalina educating people about the marine environment. I've written my weekly newspaper column on marine life for nearly 10 years and have had two cable TV shows on the same topic for the last 6 years. They are actually targeted towards the non-diving public since they do not get to see what we see while diving. I maintain a high level of educational value in both, but also use a fair bit of humor to lighten things up. I feel extremely rewarded when a checker at the grocery store, a waitress in a restaurant, a ticket agent for the island's tour companies, a shop owner or other non-diver comes up to me and tells me how much they enjoy the columns and/or the shows.
People have an interest in what goes on underwater. One need not overly sensationalize it to get people to watch. Of course a dry strictly educational show may founder, but creative voice overs can make it both informative and entertaining. Of course the visuals are the ultimate grab.
Problem is Discovery channel is for entertainment. Sharks swim and eat they dont do tricks, I dont think they have directly saved lives, and they arnt "cute". People I work with all say Im crazy for swimming in the ocean, surfing and diving when sharks are "everywhere". Personally i have had a leash cut from a bullshark while surfing, and had a bullshark bump me while spearfishing. I think discovery should focus on positive aspects of sharks and show the facts that thousands of people dive and surf yet shark attacks happen probably less than 1/2 as often as dog attacks, but I find it hard to show the minor risks involved with sharks existing and the positive highlights of sharks in our exosystem in an entertaining portrail.
Maby we could have a positive, informative, and entertaining video for shark conservation that various videographers can film and try getting an entertaining/educational conservation video together to pitch to discovery channel for airing, at the least people putting it together could contribute it to shark conservation sites, youtube and other outlets to help get positve word out
To get the true picture about sharks one needs to look at baselines of at least 30-50 years. When I started diving soCal in the late 60s, blue sharks were everywhere. We saw them on the boat crossings to the mainland, on the dive boat going to the next dive site and even on shore dives at certain locations. Today it is so rare to see one that most "shark dives" operating from the mainland and those here on the island have stopped running due to the diminished possibility of even seeing a few. To show this, it would be good to gather footage from that era (both topside and underwater) and compare it with footage from the same locations today.
Fortunately some sharks appear to be making a comeback... the soupfin, the great white and the angel shark are examples in our waters.