Archives for : Shark Week

Biting the hand that feeds

I have always loved sharks – there is something about the majesty and mystery that surrounds them in the ocean depths that has always fascinated me. No other fish or aquatic animal has managed to capture my attention more than the shark.

Maybe it has to do that they are relics from the age of the dinosaurs, or perhaps that they come in such a variety of shapes and sizes that there is always one more to learn about. No matter the reason, when I first heard of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” I was immediately drawn in. I have written about my love of Shark Week before (see here), and for the longest time, I was an avid watcher.

I admit, I wouldn’t watch everything, but I would tune in for most of it.

Over the years, however, Shark Week began to slowly drift away from the science aspect like flotsam and jetsam, idly meandering towards a more cavalier reality show-esque presentation. But I would still tune in for shows that focused on the science of these amazing creatures.

Then, like the telltale dorsal fin, I began to hear rumblings of what was coming for Shark Week 2013. Not only would there be a live show, but also a documentary about C. Megalodon – an extinct shark that could have measured up to 60 feet long and possessed a bite strength that could rip a car in half. C. Megalodon was, in every sense of the word, a giant of the deep.

Just look at those Megalodon jaws! Source

 But the special, entitled “Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives” is the worst kind of travesty against science, education and general good taste.

Christie Wilcox and many others (including Wil Wheaton!) have written about this today, but I thought I would add my voice to the growing uproar.

The “documentary” (or mockumentary, as I will be calling it from now on), focuses on the hunt for an animal that has been extinct for millions of years. The show states that ships have gone missing, unfossilized teeth have been found and that a whale carcass (with a giant bite in its flesh) was found. But there is not a single shred of evidence to substantiate the claims made on the show.

Now, C. Megalodon did exist and it was an awe-inspiring animal, and shows on the network have tackled it before. In fact, the Mythbusters built a fake C. Megalodon to determine just how strong it could be. And that was a great show, as it was rooted in science fact, not fiction.

The fact is that everything in the mockumentary about C. Megalodon was 100 per cent false – the stories, the accounts, the footage – everything. Even the scientists were paid actors.

The entire show was a gigantic lie, put on a network that prides itself on being, according to their corporate website, “the world’s #1 nonfiction media company.

The only thing Discovery did do during the C. Megalodon show was flash a brief disclaimer at the end of the show that lasted for approximately four seconds. You can see it in all its concise glory on Gawker.

Due to the uproar, a Discovery Channel executive producer has said a statement about how viewers feel betrayed by the network.

“With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon,” Michael Sorensen, executive producer of Shark Week, told FOX411 in a statement. “It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

Sorry Michael, but that doesn’t fly. No one says Megalodon is still alive, go ask a scientist.

This is dis-heartening, and deeply offensive to me, not only as a fan of sharks, but also as a biologist and a fan of the Discovery Channel.

I have lots of memories of watching high-quality Discovery Channel programming with my parents, sister and brother. I used to sit in front of it for hours and just sit transfixed, absorbing the knowledge, all while being entertained. Isn’t that the goal?

It got to a point that friends and family kept joking that I should get my own show about animals, like Steve Irwin (a hero of mine). And I wanted one, more than anything.

Sorry Discovery, but C. Megalodon has long since gone the way of the dodo, the dinosaurs and your scientific integrity.

You have lost a supporter of your network, as you have tarnished your own reputation with myth disguised as fact during a time where you can spread the word about sharks and educate people about these wondrous animals. You ripped the heart out of Shark Week – now it is just chum for the bottom feeders.

The Deepest Blue

The history of our planet is an interesting one, and I want to share this video that was forwarded to me by my dad. This perfectly shows where we’ve been, what we are and even, where we are going.

Please give it a watch:

It is incredible how far we’ve come and what we have done to get here.

Because of the video, I reflected on those special times of the year that bring joy, such as birthdays and anniversaries. They are mostly sprinkled throughout the year like little surprises, giving you something to look forward to.

All those are all well and good, but my favourite time of the year has a more dark twist – Discovery Channel’s Shark Week!

Since 1987, Shark Week has been delighting fans and scientists alike, and I am no exception. And in its 25th anniversary, I thought I would spell out why sharks are so important to me.

I saw the movie Jaws over 20 years ago, and while my parents told me that it was ok to be scared of the water, it seemed I was immune to the fear that gripped the world shortly after its release. Sure sharks were scary (anything with that many teeth is), but I was more interested in the how and why of it all.

Why are sharks so powerful? How do they track their prey? What do they normally eat?

This lit a fire under me, and I began to learn everything I could about sharks. Granted, not a lot was known and many aspects of their life cycles still remain a bit of a mystery, but being the precocious animal-obsessed child that I was, I didn’t care.

If it wasn’t known, I figured I would find it out.

Hence my want to be a marine biologist.

Shortly after, I discovered I had a life-threatening allergy to fish and seafood. Suffice to say, I was not happy. It was not what a future marine biologist, who usually has to handle a lot of fish, wanted to have.

I came to terms with it however, and while my future career in the marine animal sciences was closed, my passion burned brighter. I inhaled books and documentaries about sharks with abandon, even the sequels to Jaws (which are horrible, never ever watch them), just so I could see more.

There was something about their streamlined shape, serrate teeth and unblinking eyes that transfixed me. Add in the fact that they have a ‘”sixth sense” that can detect electric fields through receptors on their noses called the ampullae of Lorenzini (in the running for one of the best names ever), who wouldn’t want to learn about these animals that have been around longer than dinosaurs?

This passion for sharks and rays stayed in me even into university, where I dissected a spiny dogfish (called a dogfish, but actually a shark) and wrote a research paper on shark predation behaviour. The best part was when I presented the paper, I utilized a stuffed shark from the Jaws ride at Universal Studios in Florida I bought years back to show how the shark positions itself and the different attacks they use.


No discussion of sharks and Jaws may be complete without the mention of the ruthless killing of sharks done every day in the name of “sport,” “protecting the public” or for “food.” Shark attacks are exceedingly rare – In fact, I am more likely to be killed in my car, crossing the street, eating a hot dog, being killed a cat, getting struck by lightning, being killed by a falling over vending machine and more.

Are we outlawing cars, vending machines or relentlessly murdering cats?
No, of course not, that would be silly.

So why sharks?

Yes they attack people on the rare occasion, but so do lions, tigers and bears.
Sure, they are scary, but so are snakes.
And sure, they look weird, but so does an aardvark (PLEASE do not kill aardvarks, they are amazing).

But because a movie told you so?


Even the man who wrote the book Jaws, Peter Benchley, was shocked and appalled by the killing of sharks that resulted from the movie. He spent the rest of his life diving with sharks, filming documentaries and educating the public about how beautiful, important and magical sharks are.

So the next time you sit down and watch Jaws or Deep Blue Sea,  Mega shark or any other movie that makes sharks into villains, enjoy it!

But they call it the magic of the movies for a reason, and don’t take it as the truth. Do your own research and you’ll find out that they really are not all that scary or evil, just misunderstood.