Monday, August 2, 2010

If I Ran Shark Week

In case you hadn't noticed, it's Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. The promo spot is in heavy rotation: footage of Great White launching itself up out of the ocean and snatching some unfortunate pinniped in its jaws.

Perhaps in some attempt at synergy, our local movie theater is showing Speilberg's Jaws. As I drive past the marquee, I can't help thinking that our perception of sharks hasn't come very far since 1975. Sharks themselves have fared even worse, decimated worldwide by overfishing and sharkfinning boats.

To be fair to the folks at Discovery, their website for Shark Week 2010 has a lot of good information about sharks, and they've partnered with Oceana and the Ocean Conservancy. There is information about the ten most endangered sharks ("see them before it's too late!") and the 25-75 million sharks   killed each year to satisfy the demand for shark-fin soup. But the actual on-air line up for Shark Week is all shark-attacks, all the time. Jaws, jaws, and more jaws.

We're in the process of exterminating sharks at a faster rate than we are finding out the most basic facts of their biology. It's hard to mobilize people to take the kind of action that's necessary to save sharks if all they see about them is a 35-year-old Jaws stereotype. So is Discovery's shark conservation message just going through the motions? In my humble opinion, they won't change hearts and minds about the plight of sharks until their programming presents another side of sharks than as perfect, mindless killing machines.

Knowing that sharks are in far more peril from humans than humans are from sharks, it's hard for me not to want to give Shark Week a complete overhaul. Here, then, is my version of Shark Week.

Sunday: Sharkabet with Ray Troll. Game show a la Jeopardy! hosted by the author of Sharkabet.

Troll's picture book Sharkabet was where my family learned about such wonderful animals as wobbegongs and goblin sharks. I think Troll would be the perfect ambassador for shark diversity.

Monday: Diving with Sharks. Hammerheads, Galapagos sharks, and silky sharks off Cocos Islands, Costa Rica, stingrays off the Canary Islands with the dive experts from It's hard to generalize about any large community on the internet, but folks at Elasmodiver appear dedicated to shark education and conservation.This would be a Travel-channel type show of shark diving sites around the world.

Photo copyright Tom Burns. All rights reserved.

Tuesday: The Secret Lives of Sharks. My reality show would follow scientists as they use satellite tagging to solve the mysteries of white sharks and other pelagic top predators.

Above, footage from Stanford University of the National Park Service's Scot Anderson discussing data from tagged sharks.

Wednesday: SharkCam. This show would feature footage from "crittercams"--also known as animal-borne imaging systems--attached to a variety of sharks, from a basking shark to rare and mysterious six-gill shark. Sharks occur in a variety of habitats from tropical reefs to the ocean's dark, cold abyss. The shark-mounted cameras of SharkCam will allow viewers to follow sharks wherever they live.

Attaching a "crittercam" to a whale shark.
Photo by Peter Nicholas.

Thursday: Doc Gruber's SharkLab. Profiling the work of Dr. Sam Gruber and colleagues on lemon sharks at Bimini Biological Field Station.

Friday: Sharkspiration. The science of biomimicry is bringing sharks' best evolutionary innovations to a product near you. Sharkskin is inspiring a new kind of medical film that inhibits the growth of bacteria. Overreliance on antibiotics is fueling the rise of so-called superbugs, but it may be that a super marterial--sharkskin--will be able to take these bugs on.

Photo; Sharklet Technologies.
Are you listening, Discovery? The sharks are running out of time. For Shark Week 2011, maybe you can find a different story to tell about the world's emperiled sharks than "My, what big teeth you have."


  1. I ran out of steam before I came up with a good idea for a seventh show for Saturdays, but you get the idea. And if I can come up with six ideas for shows that show sharks and rays in all their diverse and wonderful glory, surely the minds behind Shark Week can do better.

  2. I love your version of shark week!

  3. FANTASTIC. I go around quoting the shark statistics to kids -- less than a dozen humans bitten by sharks each year worldwide vs. 100 million sharks and shark family members a year killed by humans -- and even I have trouble grasping the numbers. I wish they'd broadcast your version, Ann!! I'm twittering and sharing this like crazy.

  4. Thanks, Wren. I passed it along to @WhySharksMatter and @SharkAlliance, too.

  5. What a wonderful post, Ann! I'm so glad Karen shared this on Facebook. Thanks for spreading such excellent information.

  6. Looks we need some cute little shark jingles for kids to sing - or do we have them already?

    (to the tune of the farmer in the dell)

    The child gets a cut
    The child gets a cut
    The farmer puts on a sharkskin patch, and now she's healed right up- without reliance on antiBIOTICS!

  7. We love your ideas for Shark Week! I feel compelled to share that the nice folks at Discovery have indeed interviewed the folks at Sharklet Technologies several times. You can see some of the coverage on our website at Thanks for including us! /Sarah

  8. Sarah, thanks for pointing that out. I do wish that the coverage would make it on air, and not just onto their website. I think they have more work to do to help save sharks! Keep up the good work at Sharklet...I find biomimicry absolutely fascinating. Love the car modeled on a blowfish.

  9. Hey Ann, we're a Vancouver-based group raising awareness about shark finning in the Chinese community. We're really impressed by your creativity - we posted about you on our Facebook page here We're doing a chalk mural of sharks ourselves this coming weekend as a celebration of Shark Week. It's so great to see people spreading the word!

    - Harry & the ST Team

  10. Harry, thanks for posting to your Facebook page. I am proud to contribute in any way to your Shark Truth campaign to raise awareness about the plight of sharks. Here's hoping your work will change hearts and minds and save some sharks!

  11. I love sharks!!
    The last time I saw one was in a Galapagos diving cruise I did last year
    love them, great video!