Submarine Shark, ‘Shark of Darkness’ Controversy: Discovery Channel Does Program About Attack, Are the Sightings Real? (+Video)

August 11, 2014 Updated: August 12, 2014

A program about the so-called submarine shark aired during Discovery Channel’s Shark Week on Sunday night, and a number people are wondering if it’s real.

The two-hour program was described by the network as follows:

“Said to be deadliest great white shark of all time, ‘Submarine’ is a 30 foot great white that has terrorized the shores of South Africa for decades.Locals believe this shark is responsible for countless fatal attacks, but existence has never been proven.”

Apparently the legend stems mostly from the 1970s and ’80s about a great white shark the size of a submarine swimming in and around Cape Town.

One South African blog, FromTheOld, claims that the legend started when a group of journalists got together at the also famous Tavern of the Seas, when they got in an argument about how easy it would be to fool the average newspaper reader. The story goes that they would post a fake eye witness account of a massive great white shark with a fake eye witness account. They would then see what happens.

The blog does note that the legend has some truth in that people were seeing a large shark or sharks decades earlier, although the name “Submarine” was given by the journalists.

The blog says that an eyewitness told it: 

“My father tells the story of when he and my uncle went out fishing in a row boat. While out near Seal Island they spotted a dark shadow under the water. The Submarine swam past their little boat right at the surface of the water and my Dad says that once he could no longer see the head, he turned and could not see the end of the tail which was still coming past the boat. Apparently my uncle, out of pure terror, rowed the boat to shore at such a speed that it looked like he had two outboard motors powering the boat! My uncle has not been in the sea since that day (nearly 40 years ago now)!”


Zoologist Michelle Wcisel, based in South Africa, calls the Discovery Channel program about the submarine shark a “fake-umentary.”

“Everyone who has worked on white sharks has seen their version of the Submarine, but it does not actually exist. Think Loch Ness,” she said.

“I am a Zoologist specialized in behaviour, and have just completed my M.Sc. from the University of Cape Town studying the anti-predator tactics of Cape fur seals in Shark Alley, Geyser Rock, South Africa. Not once did I meet the researchers Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine features, because they do not exist. They are actors. However, Discovery Channel has done a bit of googling and came upon our real great white shark wound healing research.

“Prop is a real great white shark that was wounded by a direct hit from a boat’s propeller in Gansbaai, South Africa. This shark’s injuries were first identified by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. Prop’s remarkable 9-month recovery was documented (video) and the results were published in Global Perspective on the Biology and Life History of the White Shark. Prop has nothing to do with Submarine – neither the real legend or the made up story Discovery Channel produced. None of the researchers who published Prop’s recovery were contacted by Discovery Channel. Again, by including this real bit of information, Discovery is trying to legitimize their fake-u-mentary.”

Michael Sorensen, vice president of development and production for the Discovery Channel, says that the program is not fake.

“We’re talking about this legendary shark, Submarine, who has this dark past,” Sorensen told Entertainment Weekly.

“You gotta go into the heart of darkness to find something—well then, could this shark be the Shark of Darkness? It just kinda stuck, and we couldn’t shake it.”

Also, Melvyn Thurmond, a fellow at the South African Institute for Marine Research, is featured in the program saying that he believes that some surveillance footage did capture the submarine shark.


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