Today We Declare Independence from Silly Shark Pseudoscience!

Call the US women’s soccer team Godzilla because they just destroyed Japan! Hey-yo! How’s that for a birthday present America?!

Hello and welcome to the most wonderful week of the year, as it’s finally being called by more than just myself: Shark Week! Here’s hoping that it actually lives up to that claim. You may recall from my second post on this blog that I am a tremendous fan of sharks and also a great worrier of what Discovery Channel has done in recent years with their summertime spectacular. I’m not the only one to have noticed this downward trend, but Discovery has promised to rectify the situation and bring more actual science back into the mix.

However, I find that it may not be enough for me, and I suspect some others also. Shark Week drifted to the dark side of pseudoscience and flat out manufactured Megalodons in search of higher ratings – and they got them (higher ratings; not megalodons) – but that swim towards the fantastic was brought about by the success of shows like Air Jaws that featured great white sharks breaching the surface while hunting for seals. It was a groundbreaking show from both a scientific observation standpoint as well as a “Whoa! Dude! Did you see that?!” point of view, and it was a smashing success for Discovery’s shark schedulers. As I explained in a recent post about movies, when something works production companies order up more projects like it to capitalize on its success. The same is true with TV, and this is how Discovery determined that the world wanted more leaping white sharks. Every year since we’ve had at least one new jumping sharks special, but that wasn’t enough to satiate viewers lust for more spectacle and eventually Discovery turned to the aforementioned shameful fabrication.

Yet, even with a return to factual programming, the emphasis is still predominantly going to remain on great whites exploding out of the surf after seals. It’s awesome real-world predation by my favorite animal, but it’s not like white sharks are the only sharks. There are over 500 sharks known to man and while Carcharodon carcharias may be the coolest, there is a whole world filled with so many others of interest that most people have never heard of! Once every few years on Shark Week we get a glimpse into the depths at sharks that are only recently known to science in programs such as Alien Sharks, and there are often specials on tigers, bulls, hammerheads, and makos peppered in among the great white daily domination, but that’s too few for me! I want to see the variety of sharks and their fellow fish and prey and predators and habitats and the researchers who study them. I know that’s a lot to ask for, but after 28 years I’d think they can figure out how to make a few shows that don’t completely focus on the great white and other large sharks.

My complaints seem to be similar to a review of Jurassic World I read today that was by a paleontologist. He stated that while the movie was a ton a fun and he could easily suspend his scientific expertise to enjoy its absurdity immensely, he was disappointed in the lack of herbivores. He said the film featured plenty of carnivores, but skimped severely when it came to a variety of the less aggressive and toothy dinosaurs. (You may recall that dinosaurs were basically land sharks that came about around 200 million years after the original sharks began filling the oceans.) Isn’t that how it always goes, though? They didn’t make a stegoceratops hybrid in Jurassic World. Oh, wait, they actually did. But there’s a reason the dinosaur pictured on the right was the bad guy in the movie: it has a shitload of sharp teeth! That’s actually a critical plot point in the climax of the film! I’ve got no complaints because I loved it, but that is one movie in a series of four with the same subject matter, not 28 years of a weeks-worth of television programming with the same subject matter. Discovery has plenty of time to shift gears to the gentle giants that are whale and basking sharks, or spinner sharks and the acrobatics behind their name, or the fascinating photophores of the dwarf lantern shark, the world’s smallest known shark.

So far there has been a show focusing on makos, although it was still flavored with more scary shots of gnashing teeth than the actual research-based reasons that explain why they were looking for makos. This brings me to my next great concern for the future of my favorite week: even with real facts, the shows we do get are focused on the strength and scariness of sharks. Sharks are plenty strong and scary, but they have more to them than what we see in documentaries directed by someone trying to make a primetime cable TV special into the next Jaws. There has been a lot of time spent on utilizing new technologies in recent years, but they are mostly for acquiring the coolest shot of a breaching shark (they have had at least two whole shows devoted to this endeavor) and not used for purposes that are more obviously helpful to advancing our knowledge of these incredible animals.

I don’t anticipate drastic change during the rest of this year’s Shark Week, but perhaps the future will hold more variety within shows rooted in science to show us how we should not fear sharks but have a healthy respect for them and the role they have played for 420 million years so that they may continue to play it for many years to come.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy your Shark Week however you like to do so. Feel free to write me at monotrememadness@gmail.com about sharks or whatever else. It should be fairly apparent at this point that I can ramble about anything, so hit me up with any ideas for future posts. Until next time, chomp chomp.

Happy Shark Week,

Alex

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