What do marine scientists have against the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week?

Grey nurse shark on a reef

Shark Week is a week-long program block on the Discovery Channel that (unsurprisingly) focuses on sharks. Shark Week has run since 1988 with the aim to raise awareness and respect for sharks.

A post from David Shiffman's Facebook page 'Why Sharks Matter'
A post from David Shiffman’s Facebook page ‘Why Sharks Matter’

So, why do marine scientists have a problem with the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week? Over the years, the week has turned from education to entertainment. This year, the main features was ‘Shark of Darkness: Wrath of the Submarine’ which featured a monster shark from urban legend. Last year saw a pseudo-science mockumentary called ‘Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives’.

Very few writers are not guilty of using a sensational topic to grab attention. Over the last week, I used megalodon to talk about why shocking science is good for publicity. But, that’s not exactly what the Discovery Channel is being called on by marine scientists like David Shiffman, a PhD student studying sharks at the University of Miami.

David claims that not only are many of the programs misleading and dramatised, but some of the experts featured on the program have been deliberately lied to. In one instance, when the Discovery Channel interviewed Jonathan Davis “his answers from unrelated questions were edited together to make it seems like he believed in its [the Voodoo Shark’s] existence and was searching for it.”

Now, this isn’t to say that the Discovery Channel doesn’t feature worthwhile and educational programs, because sometimes they do. It’s just that sensational stories of megalodon and the Submarine Shark have an easy publicity angle that makes it hard not to take advantage. Later on this week, I’ll start looking at the pros and cons of using hype to sell stories on science, and whether the publicity is worth the cost. Until then, here’s Shark Week story of a different kind on Triple J (a podcast with Madison Stewart who has swum with fifty sharks at once) and a video about how the Discovery Channel has gone wrong.


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