Shark Week 2014: The Good, the Meh, and the Very, Very Ugly

To start, a warm welcome to any followers or visitors who have found us from our selection as a WordPress “Freshly Pressed” pick! I’m thrilled to have been featured and hope you’ll stick around to geek out about sharks with me and support the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy.

Folks, another Shark Week has come and, at the time of this writing, is almost gone, and with it a veritable sea (bad pun!) of criticism and conjecture about the direction the programming has taken. When I first wrote about my personal disappointments with the premiere show, I knew that a long week of episodes lay ahead that could either help redeem this ratings juggernaut in my mind, or further convince me that all the Discovery Channel is interested in is schlock, not science.

One overarching criticism: the titles of shows. They are the TV version of click-bait. Zombie Sharks?! Jaws Strikes Back?! Spawn of Jaws?! Sharkageddon? Man, I would love to have been a fly on the wall at those marketing meetings.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. I saw some shows that fascinated me. I saw some shows that disgusted me. So here’s my final round-up of Shark Week 2014: The Good, the Meh, and the Very, Very Ugly.

The Good:

“Jaws Strikes Back”-This is what I tune in to Shark Week for. The footage from the Remus SharkCam was fantastic, new, and thrilling. I loved the passion of the scientists, and the realistic portrayal of an expedition. When the SharkCam was unexpectedly damaged by the white sharks, the whole project was almost finished. That’s real! Money and funding is a genuine concern for these scientists, and I liked seeing that reality. It felt like inside information. And how about the footage of those vertical dives? And the massive, pregnant females? So cool.

“Alien Sharks”-Weird-looking, little-seen, deep-sea species of shark. That is my sweet spot. I loved the excited young scientist at the forefront of the episode and his obvious enthusiasm for his work. No overly-theatrical ominous soundtrack or special effects. I’m glad someone at the Discovery Channel figured out that when you’re looking at creatures like this, no extra frills are needed:

Image Credit: Discovery Channel

Image Credit: Discovery Channel

“Zombie Sharks”: Super dumb name for a really cool phenomenon called “Tonic Immobility”. Points added for gorgeous footage. Points deducted for calling one moment with divers and a large school of gray sharks “a real life Sharknado”.

“Spawn of Jaws”: I’m so fascinated by this topic. I thought this was a great episode start to finish, from the heart-pounding initial tagging of the pregnant female, to her route and timing being so surprising to the scientist at the helm of the research, and even poor Paul Walker. I always loved that he supported sharks and marine conservation in a hands-on, non-flashy way. We didn’t get to see the live birth of a white shark, but that’s okay. It’s science, not cinema. And it’s nice to be reminded of the mystery that still surrounds these creatures.

The Meh*:

*I’m categorizing the following episodes as “Meh” (that’s the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug) based on the fact that while they didn’t hold my interest completely, they also didn’t incite my wrath for gross mishandling of their subject matter.

“Monster Hammerhead”: Nice to see this beautiful species getting a little attention, but I’m not overly keen on the whole “We are looking for ONE.GIANT.SHARK. that may or may not exist based on local myth and legend” thing. It’s played out. A shark doesn’t have to the biggest of its kind to be cool, guys.

“Lair of the Mega Shark”: Ditto on the legend-hunters theme. And while we’re at it, did some parts of this feel a little stagey to anyone else? Like the scene of the guy staring at the video monitor rubbing his red eyes and reaching for his coffee as if to insinuate hours of fruitless searching, and then suddenly the unearthly large shadow flashes across the screen.  Do I detect a hint of scripting here? If I’m wrong, I’m going to say it’s the Discovery Channel’s fault for inundating their audience with so much docudrama nonsense that I have to doubt the veracity of everything they air.

“I Escaped Jaws 2”: Listen, even I understand they need at least one episode per year that’s nothing but harrowing accounts of shark attack survivors recalling their narrow escapes. I don’t mind there being one special dedicated to this topic, especially since almost every survivor goes on to express their lack of hatred for sharks, and in some cases, their increased respect and awe of them. It is what it is.

“Sharkageddon”: A recent uptick in attacks in Hawaii should make for compelling TV. And while I liked the inclusion of a local “water man” with a vested interest in the safety of his area in the episode for human interest and a personal perspective, I would have liked more focus on scientists in the field spearheading the effort to find out what’s behind the recent incidents.

 The Very, Very Ugly:

“Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine”: In addition to my scathing critique of this episode in the previous blog, I’d also like to add my distaste for the title. Wrath? Sharks are capable of Biblical sins? I had no idea! Thanks Shark Week!

“Megalodon: The New Evidence”: No. Nope. Pass. Not going to watch it. Not sorry. I don’t want to add to ratings that will only convince the bigwigs at the Discovery Channel that this is the right way to go.

If this trend toward the hokey, melodramatic fiction continues, next year we could be treated to “Land Shark: Gluttony of the Vengeful Legend”.

I wish I were kidding.

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We Need to Talk About Shark Week…

So.

Yesterday I caught up on the Shark Week feature, “Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarine” as I was traveling during the premiere. The show began re-airing at 5 PM. At 6:45 PM I realize I have seldom known two hours to pass so slowly.

When I had the idea to blog throughout Shark Week, it wasn’t without a modicum of trepidation. There’s been a trend in recent years, in my opinion, toward the cheap and sensational when it comes to this high-ratings week of dedicated shark programming. I didn’t think it could get worse than last year’s dismal “Megalodon” docudrama.

I was so very wrong.

From the outset, this B-movie, fear-mongering fiction-disguised-as-documentary set out to play on every fear and myth that exists about sharks, down to–and this is a direct quote– their “insatiable taste for human blood”.

Seriously, Shark Week?

Unlike “Megalodon”, which at least focused on a long-extinct ancestral species of shark, the villain of this tawdry tale is a white shark, a species still trying to make a public-image comeback from 1975’s “Jaws”.

I don’t care enough to parse through the details of this two hour farce. Full disclosure, I started to tune it out after a while. What bothers me is the irresponsibility of this kind of programming.

What bothers me is the fact that the Discovery Channel wastes their considerable budget, resources, talents, and precious viewer attention on this kind of nonsense instead of showing us some real science.

Show me some actual footage of real, gorgeous sharks. Show me some of the dedicated scientists in the field, who I am privileged to learn more about this week through great organizations like the AWSC, Shark4Kids, and Beneath the Waves.

New discoveries are happening daily. This is exciting, forward-moving, sexy science. And I believe that kind of programming can get high ratings.

Nothing the Discovery Channel can manufacture using unknown actors and a studio set could possibly rival some of the footage that was revealed last night when we ventured out with Dr. Greg Skomal and the Remus SharkCam. That’s what I want to see. And judging by the huge backlash towards the premiere, I am not alone.

So get your act together, Shark Week. I’ll be tuning in, along with millions of other viewers, hoping for something better tonight. Don’t let us down.

In the meantime, weigh in here: What do you think of this kind of programming airing during Shark Week?

Nurse Sharks in Nicaragua

At Atlantic White Shark Conservancy we love all sharks!  We just returned from Nicaragua where we spent most of the week underwater and had some quality time with nurse sharks. In the past we have seen them settled on the bottom, so it was great to watch them in action on this trip! Unlike great white sharks, nurse sharks don’t need to swim forward in order to breathe. Nurse sharks can suck water into their mouths and pump it over their gills.

 

Discovery Channel Follows Local Tagging Team

Video of a great white shark being tagged! Discovery channel filmed shark expert, Greg Skomal, working with local Captains Bill and Nick Chaprales. The clip is from one of last season’s tagging trips. Discovery channel was out with the team again this summer and the new footgage will air on Shark Week 2013!