Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shark Week: I'm not mad, Discovery Channel. I'm disappointed.

Well, okay, I'm kind of mad.

It's time for me to finally admit that I can no longer stand behind Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

It hurts to say this. I used to look forward to-- and publicly announce my excitement for-- Shark Week every year. But it's no longer what I once loved about it.

Shark Week used to be a summer celebration of the awesome power and majesty of the shark. In earlier years, it was devoted to a mission I could get behind: reducing people's fear of sharks through education.

For the past few years, though... well, let's just say their mission has changed. Every single episode of Shark Week I've caught has been sensationalist, antagonizing, and, in some cases, completely fake. I haven't learned anything in years. I used to love Shark Week because they often showcased awesome new research being done with sharks and shared what we'd learned. But now, well. There's blood and danger music in every episode.

I love sharks. I have a healthy respect for them, I think they're amazing creatures and give them credit for my falling in love with the ocean. But they're easy villains, and sadly this has led to a lot of misinformation.

Take, for example, the shark attacks currently happening off the coast of North Carolina. We're up to 8 so far, as of this post, in the last 5 weeks. This actually isn't terribly unusual-- summer is in full swing, the beaches are full of people, which means the water is, too. What's different this year is the weather. A severe drought has made the ocean salinity super high close to shore, bringing in tons of schooling fish, which brings in the marine mammals, which brings in the sharks. And humans in wet suits, on boogie boards and surf boards and even just standing around are usually pretty indistinguishable from a sea lion. At least to a shark.

It's awful that so many injuries have occurred, but there is a logical reason for it. It's not like the sharks are out there maliciously plotting to chew on people, it's just a case of mistaken identity. But all I can think every time there's a new attack is how next year there will be a Discovery Channel fakeumentary on it during Shark Week, (yes, that's the same link for the second time: I really, really want you to read that article) probably titled something like "The Deadly Summer of the Shark" or "Bloody Carolina Summer" or "Megalodon Returns: Revenge of the 50-foot-Shark". I also have a feeling they'll mention it as often as they can.

Discovery Channel has an opportunity that borders on obligation each summer. They could easily help mitigate the fear that's coming out of these attacks by using their airtime to educate people about these animals and help them understand how to reduce their risks (i.e., stay out of the water when there has been a high incidence of attacks). Instead, people are calling for "dangerous" sharks to be killed, because resources like Shark Week have taught them that sharks are vicious and scary and it must be intentional and maybe even the same shark doing all of this. (Spoiler: killing "dangerous" sharks would mean killing them all).

Mostly, I'm bothered that Discovery spent so many years building their reputation as a reliable resource and then slowly shifted focus away from what they set out to do. People still believe what they see there because Discovery used to be right. Every year, I wait for the old Shark Week to come back. And every year, I'm disappointed.

So, Discovery, if you're listening, this is a plea from someone who loves sharks and the ocean and wants people to love them, too: please, please, please take back Shark Week. Forget about ratings and bring back what made Shark Week great: genuine, interesting content about sharks. Until you do, my endorsement, for whatever it's worth, has been pulled.

I hope you'll reconsider watching, too.

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