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June 28, 2010

Taking a Bite Out of SHARK WEEK

Next month marks the 23rd anniversary of cable’s longest-running event -- SHARK WEEK. I used to consider SHARK WEEK a holiday second only to Christmas. These days though, I’m not a fan.

The Discovery Channel says SHARK WEEK helps "viewers learn more about one of the ocean's most imperiled creatures and how they can help save them from the threats of overfishing and habitat loss." Sounds good, right? Absolutely! Where do I sign? It’s unclear though how the programs support that statement when you review what the Discovery Channel calls “SHARK WEEK 2009 highlights”:

"Great White Appetite" conducted "experiments that uncover the great white sharks unique eating habits." In reality, the show’s host – a former Navy Seal – fed a great white shark five whole tuna to determine the limit of its appetite. I don’t think tuna-on-a-rope qualifies as a unique eating habit.

Les Stroud – whose Survivorman show I enjoy – hosted "Deadly Waters." During the program, Les tested the waters in the world’s “sharkiest hotspots” to answer one simple question: Which water is the deadliest?

Another program, titled "Day of the Shark 2," illustrated what happens “when a great white shark breaks through a 300-pound aluminum shark cage and traps the divers inside."

How do these programs help viewers learn about sharks and how they can help save them? I don’t know.

On the flip side, some SHARK WEEK programs claim sharks are harmless. One program exemplifies this: In 2007, shark behaviorist Dr. Erich K. Ritter hosted a program about bull sharks, which are known for their aggressive behavior. Standing in a bay amidst several bull sharks, some up to eight feet long, Ritter says, “They realize were not a threat to them and they couldn’t care less.” Seconds later a bull shark who apparently could care less removes Ritter’s left calve in one bite.

While sharks aren’t out to kill people and most don’t pose a threat, some sharks are dangerous. While Ritter certainly understands sharks better than most, the fact remains that sharks are wild and unpredictable. I have no problem with experts introducing people to harmless sharks to disprove the popular “man eater” stereotype, but it’s dangerous for experts to present all sharks as harmless.

I’m hungry for something other than shark bite survival and breaching great white shark programs. This year, SHARK WEEK will have to chum the Discovery Channel with less sensational and more educational programming to lure me in.

Posted by jroualdes at June 28, 2010 07:49 PM

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