Shark Week’s legitimacy is under fire as some of the shows from the Discovery Channel are being heavily criticized for allegedly not being real.
The most controversial story during Shark Week started several years ago and has now been told through several different angles–the possibility that the Megalodon shark, thought to be extinct for over a million years, is still alive. Three episodes about the Megalodon are airing this week, including two all-new ones.
Members of the Atlantic White Shark conservancy criticized the Megalodon programming last year, calling it a “mockumentary” and saying that the programming replaced “fear” with “facts.”
“It was essentially a fake documentary…so they were trying to pass it off as a real documentary in order to engage people. But it was all made up and perpetuates the media’s perception of sharks, calling them serial killers, which is flat wrong,” Ben Wigren, co-founder of the conservancy, told Boston Magazine.
“It’s absolutely frustrating. We were disappointed with the way they kicked off Shark Week. We support science-based programming.”
David Shiffman, a graduate student at the University of Miami and a shark biologist, has also been a vocal critic of the week. He said last year that some of the things that the network says during Shark Week are “just nonsense.”
Shiffman is best known for running the @WhySharksMatter Twitter account. Shiffman says he has mixed feelings about Shark Week, being troubled by the tone of some of the documentaries, and especially the Megalodon programming.
But he’s not totally against the week, pointing out that some of the programs, especially ones that follow actual scientists, are great for shark conservation and education.
“The hyperbole and misinformation have led many in the conservation community to boycott Shark Week, refusing to watch altogether. I have a different view. For all its many faults, Shark Week does do something really important: It gets people talking about (and interested in) sharks. Aquariums, zoos, and science museums all over the country host educational events associated with Shark Week, and the media drastically increases coverage of shark topics all week,” he said in an article on Zocalo Public Square.
“According to Upwell, an NGO that runs social media analytics on ocean topics, Shark Week drives the single greatest increase in Twitter conversations about any marine science or conservation issue of the year. Instead of boycotting, I try to take advantage of the increase in public interest to get some important science and conservation education into the discussion.”
Wigren, too, noted that despite some of the programming being fake, some of the shows are good.
“They have had other programs like this where they follow scientists and the research we are doing, and that’s the type of program we would like to see more of. It can help change the perception of sharks, and that’s what is needed to move passed the fear,” he said, referring to the Return of Jaws, which featured researchers from Massachusetts such as great white shark expert Greg Skomal.
According to Jeff Kurr, a shark expert who helps Discovery produce and direct Shark Week programs, there are 13 hours of new programming this year. A fairly large portion of that programming is real, including Jaws Strikes Back–featuring Skomal–and Zombie Sharks, featuring diver and conservationist Eli Martinez.
The Megalodon episodes–three, including two on Friday night–are considered many to be fake, along with other programs such as Monster Hammerhead, which purports to go on a search for a hammerhead rumored to clock in at over 20 feet long.
Kurr told people in a recent Reddit Q&A that they shouldn’t be upset over the shows like the ones about the Megalodon.
“Personally, I have always been fascinated by the idea of a Megalodon being out there somewhere. I’ve spent a lot of time on the ocean and heard a lot of stories about massive sharks, but that’s part of the allure of the sea… it’s a giant mystery,” he said.
“I watch shark week to be entertained- there are a shows dealing with research, attacks, adventure… it runs the gamet… Discovery has to have a variety of shows to reach a wide audience…So, I wasn’t outraged by the Meg show, I thought it was entertaining and I took it in good fun.”
“I laughed at some parts to be honest, but I wasn’t ‘outraged’ or anything,'” he added. “I was entertained. I get outraged at shark culling in Western Australia and things like that.”