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5 Things I Learned from Shark Week

1.  Fish are friends, not food. Jaws is mentioned roughly twice every five minutes on the Discovery Channel during Shark Week. And while the famous film has increased the number of shark fin-attics in the world, it has also led to some dangerous anti-shark behavior. In recent years more sharks have been killed for sport than ever before, by people who believe they are making the oceans safer. And shark fin soup has become a high-class delicacy around the world (especially in certain Asian countries). I enjoy Jaws as much as the next thriller-loving American but this attitude towards sharks is unfair and dangerous. Sharks are critical for oceanic ecosystems, they’re at the top of the food chain after all. Sharks are valuable for ecotourism endeavors which seek to draw in valuable tourist dollars through conservation. And sharks are incredibly useful scientifically to help us understand ourselves with their kick-butt immune systems, electrical sensitivity that could advance navigation tools, and internal elements that just may help us to cure heart disease.

2. The “rogue shark” is a myth. Despite what you might have learned from Jaws, there is not much scientific backing to support the idea that rogue sharks purposefully attack humans. In the rare cases in which the same shark attacks many humans in the same area, there is a reason for the attacks. In one case, a shark was accustomed to being fed by a diver who would pull the food out of his back pocket and drop it in front of the shark’s mouth. When this shark saw humans over the course of the next few weeks, he went for their hands and rear ends expecting food to be waiting for him. Mystery solved.

3. When a shark bites a human they usually let go pretty quickly when they realize it doesn’t have that distinctly seal-like taste they were hoping for.

4. One bite and you’re hooked. Surprisingly some of the biggest advocates for shark conservation projects are survivors of shark attacks themselves. You can read more of their incredible stories here at PEW’s Environmental Initiatives.

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5. Do your research. Question the “facts.” Discovery Channel has been greatly criticized the last few days for passing off their “Megalodon” documentary as truth when in fact the film was largely fiction. I watched the 2-hour special myself two nights ago and fell right into the trap. It called itself a documentary as the title credits rolled and they even had recovered footage of the off-shore South African disaster the film centers around! It was remarkable, certainly. Unbelievable in that way people find “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” unbelievable. But I was right there with them. “Nothing else could have done this except for the 60 foot plus prehistoric megalodon! Wow!” I said.

Turns out, the documentary is filled with paid actors (not scientists) and the so called recovered footage is nothing of the sort. And you know what? If that was all, I would be okay with it. I appreciate how historical fiction and science fiction can help us to understand reality. I get that these genres may lead viewers to research something further and I can get on board with that. What I can’t get on board with is the fact that Discovery Channel tried to pass it off as fact.

In the last 5 seconds of the special three sentences flashed across the bottom of the screen faster than anyone could possibly read them. I had to rewind with the remote several times before I could pause at the right location to read the mysterious words:

None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.

Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day.

Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still a debate about what they may be.

Wow, Discovery Channel, wow. Not okay. And what’s worse than worse? Over 70% of viewers, including myself, believed Megalodon quite possibly still existed! That’s using your power for evil.

willwheaton

The lesson to be learned here is not to take information at face value–do your own research, find credible sources, and cross-check them in case they are no longer credible.

Read an open letter to Discovery Channel Communications criticizing the film here

But, despite the Megalodon mistake, I have learned a thing or two and will continue to watch Shark Week this week–making sure to double check my facts along the way.

Who else is watching this week? And what have you learned?

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