Tonight kicks off Shark Week, the longest-running television event in history. As readers of this blog know, many scientists (myself included) have become critical of Discovery’s beloved television event, criticizing their PR tactics, shark attack fearmongering, and overall lack of facts, science and conservation throughout the week.
Though the concerns have been brewing for the past decade or so, last year’s ‘documentary’ on C. megalodon shoved the Shark Week science—or lack thereof—into the national media spotlight. Discovery believes they did nothing wrong with presenting “one of the most debated shark discussions of all time“, however, scientists and viewers alike protested loudly about the special on and offline to the point that CNN and other major news stations covered the controversy. Supporting the notion that ‘any press is good press’, last year’s Shark Week was the most viewed of all time.
@WhySharksMatter we have more hours than ever before and most are the factual ones you enjoy.
— Laurie Goldberg (@LaurieGoldberg) July 14, 2014
This year, Discovery claims they have responded to the strong public and media backlash. Laurie Goldberg, executive vice president of public relations for Discovery, tweeted to explain that concerns over the scientific content of this year’s Shark Week are unfounded, as “most” of the programming is fact-based. Curious if that is true, I pulled up Discovery’s day-by-day plan and examined the shows’ descriptions. I categorized them as ‘science-based’ or ‘fear-based’ using the wording in the description and whether it mentioned scientists or research (particularly as the ‘host’ or focus). I then tweeted my predictions (Storify below). Here’s the summary table:Overall, I’m not impressed. There should be some very interesting programs to watch this year, most notably Alien Sharks. But overall, the content is based on fear. Furthermore, more than half of the week focuses almost exclusively on great white sharks, completely ignoring the stunning diversity of sharks that live in our oceans, most of which are faring worse than great whites when it comes to conservation. I won’t be watching most of the week—I simply refuse to support most of the programming. However, I will be watching on Thursday night for Sharkageddon. Why? Because it’s all about my home, the islands of Hawaii.
Hawaii is thought of as an idyllic vacation destination, but recent spikes in shark attacks are turning these shores into a shark hot spot. Hawaiian native and surf legend Kala Alexander knows these waters better than anyone, and he hopes to uncover the reason behind this sudden shark invasion in Sharkageddon.
I won’t be alone. Since the special focuses on the animals studied by several graduate students and faculty members I know here in Hawaii, I decided to invite them over for a watch party. I’ll be live-tweeting their and my commentary during the Pacific airing of the special (7 PM Hawaii time, 10 PM Pacific, and 1 AM Eastern). Note: none of them, not a single one, was spoken to for the show, so we’re all very curious how the animals they study will be portrayed.
For those who prefer to get a second opinion, the ocean-minded folks at Upwell released their own guide to Shark Week, which has been featured over at i09 (they were a bit more generous with the “science” credits):
Will this year be Discovery’s redeption, or simply add fuel to the fire? I guess we’ll just have to see. I’ll be retweeting shark scientists and shark conservation organizations during the week to pass along their impressions of Shark Week 2014. Follow me (@NerdyChristie) for more, or simply follow this incredible list of shark scientists compiled by David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter), which I have twitter-listed here. My guess? It’s not going to be a good week for science. And that’s a damned shame.
Image credit: Discovery logo from their website discovery.com