Every summer for the past 27 years, Discovery Channel has put together some epic programming all about sharks for their famed "Shark Week." But especially in recent years, conservationists and biologists have criticized the bloody portrayal of sharks as simplistic and harmful, and decried the fictional programming given the guise of documentaries. Fortunately, Discovery Channel chief Rich Ross vowed to scrap the fake stuff on the channel altogether, but Shark Week still has the power to make shark experts wary.
So deep-sea biologist Andrew David Thaler decided to offer an alternative. At his blog, Southern Fried Science, he explains that instead of watching Shark Week, he will be watching classic documentaries from the explorer and conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau. "I’ll be honest, I’m burned out on Shark Week," he writes. Typically he uses Twitter and his blog to follow the week’s programming and debunk inaccuracies. But this year he writes:
I find that I just don’t have much more to say. Some shows will be good. Some shows will be great. Some shows will be bad.
Jacques Cousteau has never let me down. Sure, sometimes the science is off (pretty much everything in Blind Prophets of Easter Island is incorrect, for example), but that’s because the Calypso crew was working at the boundaries of human knowledge, and their work comes off earnest, heartfelt, and compassionate. And so full of wonder. Much of what Cousteau’s team did was done for the very first time.
Thaler’s lineup of Cousteau documentaries is available on the blog and those following along can join the live-tweeting using the hashtag "#jacquesweek." Thursday night, for example includes viewing of The Jacque Cousteau Odyssey: The Warm-blooded Sea Mammals of the Deep at 9 pm EST. Friday will feature two programs from The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau and one from Jacques Cousteau’s River Explorations. Some of these can be streamed online.
With the live-tweeting comes some insights:
RIP Eugenie Clark, hanging with Cousteau in 1968. Amazing to sea one of the great shark scientists at the dawn of her career. #JacquesWeek— Andrew David Thaler (@SFriedScientist) July 6, 2015
and some choice quotes (this one while the group was watching Jacques Cousteau’s River Explorations: The Mississippi: Friendly Foe):
"in a great mechanized annual ritual" - the harvest of midwestern corn #Jacquesweek— Amy Freitag (@bgrassbluecrab) July 9, 2015
It’s not too late to join in on #jacquesweek and never to late to check out Cousteau’s work. To end the week on Saturday, the plan is to watch The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson’s salute to and send-up of the eccentric Cousteau.
And for those who haven’t yet given up on Shark Week, shark ecologist David Shiffman (on Twitter @WhySharksMatter) is still following and setting the record straight when needed.