Shark Researchers Take a Bite Out of Discovery Channel’s Fake Shark Week Documentary

Experts said the scripted show was misguided and disappointing, and was used to instill fear rather than introduce facts.

Photo via OCEARCH.com

Photo via OCEARCH.com

A Cape Cod nonprofit organization committed to raising public awareness about Great White sharks off the coast of Massachusetts chewed out the Discovery Channel’s premiere episode, kicking off the highly anticipated Shark Week, for trying to fool viewers into thinking a giant prehistoric predator could possibly be lurking deep in the ocean.

Members of the Atlantic White Shark conservancy said that the channel’s choice to air a “mockumentary” about the prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon, which the conservancy claims is extinct, replaced “fear” with “facts,” and misguided viewers who were hoping to gain real knowledge about the sharks that cruise through the deep blue sea. “It was essentially a fake documentary…so they were trying to pass it off as a real documentary in order to engage people. But it was all made up and perpetuates the media’s perception of sharks, calling them serial killers, which is flat wrong,” said Ben Wigren, co-founder of the conservancy. “It’s absolutely frustrating. We were disappointed with the way they kicked off Shark Week. We support science-based programming.”

The “documentary,” which featured “dramatized characters” posing as shark experts, and boat captains using unrealistic means to chart and locate the underwater animals, toyed with the idea that the 64-foot Megalodon could still be out there to this day.

Members of the Cape Cod group, troubled by the way the story was being portrayed, tried to get the attention of viewers by starting the hashtag #SharkWeekFail, to highlight the misinformation being broadcast by the Discovery Channel through the life-like “mockumentary.”

Shark experts from around the country chimed in during the show’s airtime to dispute the claims that Megalodon could still exist, getting support from the local research group:

A group from New York known as the “Shark Savers,” also got a Retweet from the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy account, after they said that “referring to any shark, even extinct Megalodon, as a “serial killer” is just wrong, ethically and ecologically.”

The conservancy also started responding to the official Shark Week Twitter account, reminding them that the animal is as much alive as a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

A viewer compared the doctors on the Megalodon documentary to rapper “Dr. Dre,” garnering a response from the Conservancy, who compared the fictional TV show characters portraying real-life researchers to Dr. Drake Remoray, a roll played by the character Joey, from Friends, when he was the star of a Soap Opera in the sitcom.

Following the episode on Sunday night, Discovery Channel later kicked off a poll asking viewers if they believed that the giant shark could still be swimming out in the ocean, but just hasn’t been discovered. Surprisingly (to researchers) a whopping 76% of people that took the poll said they think Megalodon exists, something that shark hunters feared would happen after the show aired on Sunday night.

Wigren said he would prefer that Shark Week and a channel like Discovery focus on the science and the research that is really needed to get information out to the general public about Great Whites, instead of a program that is really all based on “media hype” and trying to “play on fear.”

While Wigren wasn’t impressed by the first night of broadcasting, he has faith that the week-long focus on sharks will improve. On Monday night, the Discovery Channel is set to air an episode called “The Return of Jaws,” featuring researchers from Massachusetts—including the Cape Cod Shark Hunters and the state’s top Great White expert, Greg Skomal—something Wigren is looking forward to watching. “They have had other programs like this where they follow scientists and the research we are doing, and that’s the type of program we would like to see more of. It can help change the perception of sharks, and that’s what is needed to move passed the fear,” he said.

  • Mike Kendall

    I agree it was disappointing. Reminded me of Al Gore’s joke film on global warming.

  • Sean Larry

    My son and I were watching last night. He’s 11. He sniffed it out in 2 minutes. It was funny. I enjoyed it. Kudos to Discovery. Now all the booger eaters who believed it will stay away from the ocean.

  • Herb Greenwood

    I realized the was a Shark-mmercial after I saw how the show was filmed…same as the Mermaids hoax. The talk show after was even more ridiculous. It lost focus about Sharks about thirty minutes in. Rubbish. A bad start to Shark Week. Get your S__T together folks.

  • Mariah harrison

    I can’t help but be irritated at the lack of humor within people today. People are complaining that shark week is about entertainment now and not about the facts and that they’ve lost their credibility. HELLO, there is like 22 more hours of legitimate, educational documentaries about real sharks every day of shark week. Have some fun

    • Scotty G.

      I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a sit-com. A laugh-track would have made it funnier.

      • Mariah harrison

        Well my humor is that of “the Big Bang Theory” so maybe it suits peps like me better

    • Scotty G.

      I didn’t realize it was supposed to be a sit-com. A laugh-track would have made it funnier.

    • Mister Unicorn

      I am irritated at your irritation! How do you know there are 22 more hours of legitimate educational documentaries? What if they have lied about everything? What if BIgfoot is not real?! What if Aliens aren’t coming back for us? What then? What if dogs can’t talk to us through a medium!? How will we go on?! How will we survive?! Fun cannot be had at that point. Fun will forever be gone.

      • Mariah harrison

        Your right!!!! I guess we will just have to trust in the reliability of our politicians

  • Nobody

    the Blair Shark Project was extremely lame

    • Scotty G.

      LOL! And some are complaining about a lack of humor.

    • Scotty G.

      LOL! And some are complaining about a lack of humor.

  • Nobody

    the Blair Shark Project was extremely lame

  • Shark Stewards

    Pretty lame kick off and pathetic people are so easily sucked into the myth. I liked the shark cam on Skomal’s piece but confirming white sharks swim near prey in shallow water wasnt too earth shattering a conclusion.

  • Bryan Oh

    Although I agree with many others that this documentary was dramatized, provided few solid facts, and such. I think it did a great job as a documentary. Sure, documentaries should be “real”. But did they ever say that Megaladons existed? Mere speculation. But it promotes debate, sparks brains (obviously this is true with this amount of backlash and controversy from viewers and professionals alike). And sure it seems very unrealistic that such a huge beast can be hidden from the world for such a long time, but really, we have no idea what the oceans contain. We only know 5% of it. And please don’t be sarcastic and mocking by comparing it to the t Rex or aliens. 1: T Rex roams on land, and ahoy we just happen to live on land too! 2: Don’t even talk about aliens, or at least the cliche aliens Hollywood portrays.

    I can say for sure that there is always a possibility that a mega predator can exist in the waters until we have searched every liter of water out there (which will not happen in many lifetimes), but maybe not to the inconceivably large extent that this documentary may have alluded to.

    All in all I believe that Discovery did a great job with this documentary. And I support their firm backing of it. You can choose to open your mind to new ideas, or you can close it and be stuck in limbo where others try to influence what you think. Documentaries are supposed to give us opportunities to open our minds, and to slam this documentary down and label it a “mockumentary” without deep thought and evaluation shows us how vulnerable and prone to manipulation we are. Think about it.

  • Chris Blasco

    I know I’m a little late on this, but if DC is willing to do faux documentaries now, what’s to say they never did this before with other documentaries. Like the one about finding the tomb of Jesus and his followers a couple years back.