Scientists Say Shark Week Is Dead in the Water

Shark scientists say that the Discovery Channel's programing has lost its bite. 

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Shark scientists say that the Discovery Channel's programing has lost its bite.

Now in its 27th year, Shark Week ratings have hit an all time high with titles like "Air Jaws: Fin of Fury" and "Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine", CNN reports. At the same time, many members of the scientific community say that Shark Week is peddling fiction disguised as fact.

First launched in 1988, SHARK WEEK was Discovery Channel’s very first week-long event, designed to fulfill viewers’ thirst for knowledge about the natural world, and to use the time between traditional television seasons to draw attention to the still-young network."

Last year, the Discovery Channel faced criticism for its Shark Week special "Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives," in which actors pretending to be scientists searched for a 67-foot shark that's been extinct for millions of years.

David Shiffman, a shark expert at the University of Miami's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy summed up the growing criticism of Shark Week programming while speaking to National Geographic about the Megalodon special last summer. 

"If this megalodon special had aired on the Syfy Channel, I probably would have loved it," he said. "But Discovery bills itself as the premier science education television station in the world and they're perpetuating this utter nonsense."

Science writer Brian Switek echoed this sentiment in Nat Geo on August 9.

Discovery built its reputation with science programming. Shark Week was always a high point... But now Discovery is a joke, with the megalodon fiasco only being a confirmation of what has been clear for some time."

Critics also maintain that it's increasingly hard to differentiate between factual programming and the fantastical. Many scientists claim that their words or research has been distorted by the Discovery Channel to appeal to viewers by sensationalizing and twisting facts.

Jonathan Davis, who was studying sharks in the Gulf of Mexico when he agreed to do a Shark Week special last year told i09 that the producers edited his interview to make it seem like he believed in a non-existent monster shark called a "Rooken."

They used my response to one question to make it sound like I believed in this monster shark 'Rooken' that they had just laid the groundwork for being real as a preface for the whole show."

Kristine Stump, a postdoctoral Research Associate at Shedd Aquarium, told i09 that while she agrees Shark Week has aggressively pursued ratings over reality, she still believes that it can have scientific and educational value.

While we can't control the editing, we can control what we say on-camera," she said. "By being involved, I could have the opportunity to be a voice of real science amid an otherwise sensationalist line-up. If we want to make a difference in Shark Week, then be the difference."

As Shark Week wraps up its 27th season this weekend with programming such as "Alien Sharks: Return To The Abyss," the week-long special looks like it has officially jumped the shark.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.