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.
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, cofounder 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.”
— Atlantic White Shark (@A_WhiteShark) August 5, 2013
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:
— David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) August 5, 2013
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.