By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
In spite of a 27-year-long legacy that is Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” and the cool shots of a a shark attacking an underwater drone, the cable channel is getting excoriated by shark experts saying that Shark Week has become “more Sharknado and less science.” That’s because the network is doubling down on weaving in fake documentaries, and there are claims that producers of these phony specials are lying to shark experts, and using clever editing to make it look like they’re in on the act. And it’s leaving many to wonder why Discovery is using such fake tactics, considering the enormous popularity of the annual week of broadcasts.
For 27 years Shark Week has been the prime showcase for all things shark – science, legend and conservation concerns. A whole generation that has grown up with shark week have awareness and issues for sharks; many marine biologists cite Shark Week as bringing them into that field. Discovery Channel has been one of the biggest contributors to furthering shark research and have paid for technology that has been critical in the studies. – Discovery Channel Statement
Last year, Discovery aired a single phony documentary called “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” which tried to put out the idea that a prehistoric giant shark trolled the waters off Baja, California. It was completely fake with photoshopped photos of a giant dorsal fins of the Megalodon cruising by a World War II submarine. In addition, there was a fake whale that ‘washed up on shore’ with wounds indicated a giant shark attack, and even had actors portraying fake shark experts.
“We’ve been doing this for 27 years now,” said Michael Sorensen, Discovery Channel’s Vice President of Development and Production. “We’ve made almost 200 shark programs and I think that coming into last year we wanted to do something a little bit different. We wanted to take the audience on different journey.” But instead, Discovery caught hell for it. So much so that this year they took a different tack as they doubled down on the faux documentary angle.
“The basic premise was a camera crew was dropping in on real scientists doing actual hammerhead research, a team of scientists and anglers look to explore the mystery and find out if the legend could be real. But the end result does not match the description of what we filmed.” – Kristin Stump, researcher, Shedd Aquarium in an interview with io9.com
This year, in addition to providing a pair of sequels to Monster shark program called “Megalodon — The Extended Cut” and “Megalodon: The New Evidence,” there’s also a “Monster Hammerhead,” and “Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarine,” which is a mockumentary about a boat-sized great white trolling the waters off South Africa and sinking boats for its prey. It’s all shot in a Blair Witch, found footage style, and includes fake news stories, to boot.
And then there’s Voodoo Shark, which is about a rare species of shark that lives off the Louisiana Coast. The thing about this dramatization, is that it includes real expert interviews. And the experts claims that producers of the show lied to them to get them on camera (what a shock), and then selectively edited their interviews to make it sound like they supported the urban legend as fact.
I asked a few of the crew members, including the producer, what the show was going to be about. I never got a straight answer and the producer seemed to avoid the question. I was just told it would be combined with some other filming to make one show about Louisiana shark research. – Jonathan Davis, Researcher
One researcher smelled the ruse and decided to pass on participating in shark week this year. Todd Cameron, whose 1500 mile ocean swim raised awareness about endangered sharks due to overfishing practices, decided against being a guest on Shark Week’s After Dark program.
“After giving it some thought and discussing with peers I respect, I decided to pass on Discovery Channel’s invite,” he wrote on his Facebook Page. “… sharks are such a crucial species and 100 million are killed each year,” Cameron told The Verge, “you would think that Shark Week would be doing something educational. (Instead,) they are taking an extremely skittish, and shy animal like a tiger shark or a hammerhead shark and they are tuning it into a monster.”
“It’s a big frustration to see this coming back when it really wouldn’t be a gamble for them to get out ahead and increase positive programming, real programming and maybe spotlight other species.” – Sonja Fordham, Founder of Shark Advocates International to IBTimes
It’s really a shame, too. Because this year there have been some really cool moments, including a remote controlled underwater drone who’s cameras picked up the attack of a great white shark as it came up from underneath and bit into its superstructure. And that’s something that has been been caught on video. And there was also a cool GoPro array that sought to give great whites the “Matrix” bullet time treatment as they go after some bait during a feeding frenzy (see the video here). And a lot of it is even shot on the RED Epic Dragon. So there’s also been some legitimate Science, but it’s gotten lost in all the controversy of Discovery’s new fraudulent production tactics.
But even with push back from researchers, the media, and even Shark Week fans, Discovery is likely to continue to the reality based tactic, as ratings this year are the largest in its 27 year history. Look, I get that these channels are first and foremost entertainment vehicles. But you think the least they could do is offer disclaimers instead of masquerading them as actual documentaries. Then again, in their commercials they do include the phrase “Be careful what you fish for.”