Shark Week's one of the most anticipated events of the year, where the network adds a new documentaries and one-off shows into rotation. Shark Week is a non-stop infomercial on the awe-inspiring predators.
Viewers may find the documentaries featuring actual scientists as interesting learning tools. Who doesn't trust an expert, right? But the interviewed scientists told everyone to be wary since you shouldn't trust the filmed information…at all.
Take Jonathan Davis, for instance.
Asking questions on the overall project's goal, he never received a "straight answer and the producer seemed to avoid the question." After some persistence, production explained it would be part of a larger documentary on Louisiana shark research.
Reasonable, right? The show’s produced numerous specials about shark species where a group of scientists describe how research connects the dots.
Instead, the network eventually produced the 2013 special called Voodoo Sharks about Rookin, a mythical monster stalking the bayous. Splicing the interview about real situations and possibilities with local fisherman, Rookin seemed to be a "race between his team of researchers and the fishermen to see who could catch the mythical voodoo shark faster."
Davis explained about the filming process. "I was fed certain words to rephrase my sentences in ways that the producer thought would spark more interest." Makes sense from a monetary side for advertising, even if he refused to use their lies. Also seems a little bit like an episode of Big Brother.
In the beginning of Voodoo Sharks, directors implied a monster lurked alone the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and they used Davis’s answers to create a narrative about the validity of Rooken. And by doing so, Discovery also managed to make it seem as if Davis believed in the mythical creature, instead of the truth.
For the record, there is no voodoo shark. So, that was a bold-faced lie.
And despite Davis's criticism, the network's continued the practice this year. Kristine Stump's working on her post-doctoral research as an assistant at the Shedd Aquarium, but Discovery used her interview to bolster Monster Hammerhead—where they claim a hammerhead's lived along the Florida coast for over 60 years.
Too bad the truth is completely different. The average life span of a hammerhead is only 44 years, so a large one living for 60 years seems very unlikely. And unlike SyFy's often humorous, campy monster flicks about a Sharknado or Mega Shark, Discovery's supposed to be a reliable source. Stump was told a "camera crew was dropping in on real scientists doing actual hammerhead research," not creating a low-budget Jaws.
“We'd talk about the research goals and the challenges we face in trying to achieve those goals." Another sleight of hand in a week meant to save sharks lives and counter the fear of a Jaws invasion in some small town.
Davis warns about the outcome of not being overly cautious. "Had I known they would combine it with those ridiculous fishermen to make a show about a mythical shark I would have had some serious second thoughts about participating."
So should scientists even consider working with the network, filming crews, and production? Davis and Stump say yes, but make sure the real truth is being described and never stop asking questions. Using deductive reasoning and put that scientific degree to work.
When did Discovery and Syfy/Sci Fi merge stations? Is the Monster Hammerhead special tomorrow night going to be fake too? #SharkWeek— Madison Brickman (@_MaddieBrick_) August 11, 2014
Stump points the lack of control in editing and presentation of facts, but she does remind other scientists to "be the difference" in the handing out information. "We can't control the editing," but "we can control what we say on-camera."
SyFy’s Swamp Shark was very entertaining, but that doesn’t make it real.
Maybe Shark Week’s not the best way to make sure the truth is out there, yet the solid research lends the "opportunity to be a voice of real science amid an otherwise sensationalist line-up." A very valid point.
Variety points out that Shark Week earned the highest ratings ever with last Sunday's opening. The night pulled a 2.27 rating among adults between 25-54 and averaged 3.64 total viewers overall. In the history of the channel, it ranked 13th highest-rated evening. And that doesn't reference the 4 million Facebook mentions by 3 million users. And 11 trending topics on Twitter that were all Shark Week related.
The audience is clearly there for the network. Discovery started out with good intentions, but somehow the science fell to the side in order to draw people in with glitz and glam.
All Discovery needs is a reminder that the public wants the truth since many will never see a shark up close and person. And if annual repeating showings of a decade-old documentary are going to be used, make sure to provide scientific evidence. If something's changed, follow up.
However, there's no need to lie to the public in order to gain ratings. Remember that people are still convinced mermaids are real after the faux documentary was shown on Animal Planet. And the best way to save a shark's life is to provide evidence, not make something up to fit a false narrative.