Shark Week is under way on the Discovery Channel, and the viewing public is in a frenzy over it. It makes for a great late summer diversion, but what exactly can we trust about Shark Week?
Last year Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives came under fire for it’s less than accurate presentation of a shark that’s been extinct for over a million years. Instead of stating that although it’s dimensions were terrifying, it’s nothing to worry about, they filmed scientists searching for the “monster” shark off the coast of South Africa. To ante up the drama, they showed faked footage of a boat being taken down and a whale whose tail has been mysteriously bitten off.
They seemed to go with similar themes of a giant shark off the coast of South Africa with Sunday Night’s Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine. Here’s a fake newspaper front page from that one:
Sometimes actors are hired to play scientists, but sometimes real scientists and researchers are filmed and duped into being part of these fake documentaries. Jonathan Davis, who was studying bull sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, for his Master’s degree, spoke with io9.com about how he was tricked to being on the show. He says the crew approached him, saying they were interested in sharks off the coast of Louisiana, but when he asked them exactly what the documentary would be about, they were evasive. He was then shocked to see footage of himself in 2013’s Voodoo Shark about a mythical shark off the coast of Louisiana. He says his answers to questions unrelated to the mythical shark were edited to make it seem like he believed in it.
“Throughout the interview I was fed certain words to rephrase my sentences in ways that the producer thought would spark more interest,” he says. “Some words or phrases they asked me to say were beyond anything I would say on my own and I refused. However, they were clever in their questioning by getting me to respond to a vague question with a response that could be used as an answer to a completely different question.”
All of these tactics and misleading presentation are causing scientists to completely distrust Discovery and refuse to work with them, according to science writer Christine Wilcox. They’re not just upset over what some call “fraud,” but shark scientists see that Shark Week is causing real damage. “Frighteningly, they’ve somehow done the impossible and actually contributed negatively to scientific research,” says David Kerstetter, Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.
Entertainment Weekly spent some time with the creators of Shark Week, and found out that they come up with the sensationalist titles first, and then try to construct a story to fit it. Next year we might be seeing a title called Bride of Jaws which was thought up first by Donna Alessandro, VP of programming. Michael Sorensen, VP of development and production asked what this would be about, and she replied “I don’t know. That’s for you to figure out.” They next few months they brainstormed who the Bride of Jaws was, and what her story would be.
Discovery doesn’t just save is psuedodocs for Shark Week, they’ve aired two fauxomentaries about mermaids.