I have to say, I can’t think of anything more glamorous than Michael Phelps racing a simulated great white to celebrate Shark Week, an annual program by the Discovery Channel featuring solely shark-based content.
The programming block that has grown in popularity throughout the years is meant to be informative at it’s core. The Discovery Channel describes it on their website by promising that it is “delivering all-new groundbreaking shark stories and incorporating innovative research technology to reveal compelling insight on some of the most unique shark species in the world.”
However, Shark Week is by no means purely scientific. It’s a lot more fun to watch Jaws-like portrayals of the creature. To maintain the high ratings the program has received throughout the years, programs are often aired that demonizes sharks to garner spectator interest.
More Harm Than Good?
Film fakery, when producers create a very targeted perception of the topic or animal they’re covering, is common in many nature documentaries. Shark Week pushes over sensationalized images of sharks as dangerous man-eaters because it is more appealing to an uninformed, young audience. The content that makes it to TV is selective, edited, and represents only a minute fraction of reality.
The misrepresentation of sharks harms conservation efforts. The public and government both are less likely to want to put resources into saving a species that falls under the category of dangerous and bloodthirsty.
“The wrong perception can lead to misperceptions and in the end, I think, hurt public policy toward these animals,” said Chris Palmer, founder of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University “One has to wonder how that affects work that goes on at CITES [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] and places like that where we try to get international protection for sharks. If the populace is thinking of sharks as dangerous, why would anyone save them? That makes it harder, I think, to do the right thing.”
Facts To Remember
Even though, yes, Shark Week is fun to watch by design, it’s vital to keep the facts in check. The real way to celebrate sharks during and after Shark Week is to acknowledge the creature as more than how is is so often portrayed. Here are some facts about sharks to keep in mind through all the bloodshed on TV. (From WJLA.com and PETA2).
1. There are over 465 known species of sharks that cover a wide range of aquatic environments.
2. Whale Sharks are the largest species, measuring more than 60 feet in length, whereas dogfish sharks are the smallest, at only 8 inches.
3. Sharks have existed for over 400 million years, which makes them older than dinosaurs.
4. On average, sharks live for around 25 years in the wild. However, when in an aquarium, some only live for days.
5. Shark finning is a federal offense, yet millions of fins are harvested each year for shark fin soup.
6. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 50 to 70 shark attacks occur every year. For every shark that kills a human, upwards of 2 million sharks are killed by humans. That’s 11,000 sharks killed every hour, which explains why they are critically endangered and on the IUCN Red List.
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