Discovery Channel’s Shark Week is arguably one of the most successful television programs of the summer. With a loyal cult following, it has transitioned a series of nature documentaries into a pop culture phenomenon. Unfortunately, in recent years we are witnessing what ODCA headquarters likes to call the “Jurassic World Effect”. That notion of “bigger, louder, more teeth” is dominating the lineup. Each year the boundary is pushed a little more and the content becomes even more sensationalized. Who can forget the infamous Megalodon mockumentary? We all know that drama sells, ratings pay the bills, and ultimately it is all boils down to entertainment. Yet somewhere along the way shouldn’t there still be glimmers of authentic conservation messaging? Shark Week was conceptualized to educate and spread awareness for sharks.
These magnificent apex predators are constantly struggling to escape the bloodthirsty man-eating monster stereotype that Jaws so generously bestowed upon them. Other films like The Shallows, 47 Meters Down, and Sharknado only perpetuate the label. Alarmingly, Shark Week titles seem to follow this disturbing trend. What message is Discovery Channel really sending to the casual browser who flips through the guide only to read titles like “Devil Sharks”, “The Great Hammerhead Invasion”, and “Great White Shark Serial Killer Lives”? “Lair of the Sawfish” sounds like the makings of summer’s next Sci-Fi horror film. The titles certainly do not echo an animal worth protecting!
More than ever, sharks desperately need positive media exposure to help combat the misconceptions fueled through cinematic productions and fears instilled in the masses through inaccurate media reporting.
With a brand as enormous as Shark Week, why are we still relying on title entertainment and gimmicks to keep an audience engaged? Instead of putting marketing dollars towards pun-filled Hollywood narratives ("Sharks in the City"), shouldn’t we be marketing sharks as an apex predator worth saving? The current lineup and those of recent years does little more than portray sharks as villains plotting against humanity. Like it or not, the future of mankind is closely intertwined to the survival of sharks.
It is time for Shark Week to start making some real waves. Can we please stop recycling the same tired content? Isle of Jaws is becoming the new Air Jaws. Discovery Channel employs some of the most talented videographers on the planet and consults with brilliant research minds. It is time to get a bit more creative and move beyond worn out sequels. Instead of analyzing the same series of shark attacks yet again, why not launch a new line of inquiry? How about investigating the disappearances of our deep water sharks as they are being brutally slaughtered for their livers to create cosmetics like lipstick? Want a little more Shark N Awe? Let’s showcase the true horrors of the finning industry. Visual imagery is one of the most powerful tools that a conservationist can utilize to convey a message.
Why can’t we get back to entertaining while also educating? There are so many shark species to choose from. How about a little more diversity! Unleash the power of a camera in a way that provokes thought and inspires meaningful change!
Everyone knows there ain’t no party like a shark week party, but let’s walk away from that week-long fiesta with a compelling reason to care! Use the programming to evoke positive emotions towards sharks! We should be living every week like it is shark week if we want to save the oceans before we hit that point of no return!