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Shark Week Loses its Bite, and That’s a Good Thing for Sharks

After 25 years of man-eating, Discovery's Shark Week embraces conservation

Image: Terry Goss

Shark Week turns 25 this year, and they’re turning over a new fin: out with the man-eating, in with the education. After all, 25 years of shark cages and suspenseful music is probably enough, says Brooke Runette, the executive producer. The Washington Post writes:

In an interview, Runnette, a former news producer who took over Shark Week in 2010, said part of her work is fueled by a straightforward motivation to drive audience with fresh material: “What can I still do that’s new, for God’s sakes, after 25 years?”

The usually-bloody week has been subject to scrutiny from the environmental community for many years. They argue that by painting sharks as ferocious, man-eating super villains Discovery Channel is putting sharks at risk of both fishing, and just outright revenge killing. There are all sorts of statistics that are thrown around about the imbalance of power between sharks and humans, but this one seems to sum it up: sharks kill about 20 people each year, while humans kill between 20 and 100 million sharks in that same amount of time.

Shark Week started in 1988 with their first show “Caged in Fear”. The description was “A new motorized cage is tested for its resistance to shark attacks.” Since then, each year has seen new advances is footage, and of course, shark cages and shark attacks. In 2003 they scored the second highest ranked Shark Week of all time by showing actual footage of a shark bite.

Of course, Discovery isn’t the only place to capitalize on the big bad shark. The movie Jaws sparked a nationwide obsession with the finned beasts. And before Jaws, the shark attacks that might have inspired the movie riveted the nation. The Smithsonian has the story behind Jaws.



 

Discovery has an unlikely ally in their switch – shark bite survivors. The Washington Post writes:

s Mike Coots — who lost his right leg to a shark while surfing off the Hawaiian island Kauai — put it when describing being interviewed about his 1997 attack: “Most of the time, you’re thinking, someone else is making a dime off of what I’m saying. With this, what I’m thinking is what I’m saying might inspire future stewards of the ocean.”

Shark Week fans, never fear. There will still be shark cages and dramatic music and fear. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be shark week. But at least now there’s fear with a side of conservation.

 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Forget Jaws, Now it’s . . . Brains!

The Shark That Will Give You More Nightmares Than Jaws

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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