It’s time for the 27th annual Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, featuring a solid week of shark-centric programming for viewers who just can’t get enough of…factually incorrect fear-mongering stories about sharks.
Sharks are the villain everyone loves to hate, from Jaws to endless B-movies on the SyFy Channel, but in fact, the real enemy is humans. Worldwide, sharks are in critical danger, and we’re the only ones who can save them. It’s time to put down the remote and take up the cause of shark conservation, because it won’t be too long before Shark Week is little more than a series of antique horror films about a superorder of fish that used to be abundant in the world’s oceans.
The Discovery Channel has been criticized in the past for its unfair depiction of sharks as monsters out to chow down on humans, and it’s pledged to do better this year, but many critics are skeptical. Scientist Christie Wilcox crunched the numbers on Discovery’s programming and found only three blocks that are likely to be based in actual fact — which leaves nine filled with fear-based depictions of sharks. Not a great ratio, Discovery, especially for a network that claims to be educating members of the public about conservation issues.
Things that are more dangerous than sharks: toilets, air fresheners, lightning, falls and buckets. These apex predators (the sharks, not the buckets) are focused on what they find in the sea, not on humans. And as apex predators, they play a critical role in biodiversity, sustainability and the equilibrium of marine ecosystems.
They keep other predators (except humans) in check, create more sustainable populations of other marine creatures, and contribute to the health of underwater habitats. Without sharks, the world’s oceans would look very different, and once they’re gone, it will be extremely difficult to compensate for their loss.
Worldwide, sharks are in decline, with a number of species listed as threatened or endangered. Many are hunted for their fins, which are economically valuable in parts of Asia, where they’re a culinary delicacy. Sharks are often caught, stripped of their fins while still alive and then tossed back into the ocean to suffer; sounds like sharks should be swimming the other way when humans are around. Sadly, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that there’s limited species-specific information on exact shark numbers, which makes it extremely hard to protect sharks and manage fisheries appropriately.
As Shark Week promotes dangerous ideas about sharks, along with a slew of films, television specials and books, groups like Bite-Back are fighting back, promoting shark conservation and dispelling myths about sharks. They’re working with divers, researchers and fisheries management services to track and monitor sharks and promote sustainable, healthy interactions with them. Some shark conservation groups work with celebrity spokespeople, like January Jones, who says she’s scared for sharks, not of them. Meanwhile, even shark attack victims are speaking up on the side of sharks, talking about how their relationship to these mighty fish changed when they realized how precarious their lot really was.
Viewers should continue to ask Discovery why Shark Week is filled with erroneous, fear-mongering information about sharks, because what happens when all the sharks are gone? Mole Week?
Photo credit: Sebastien Fillion.