Another Shark Week has come and gone, and despite being out of the country at the time, I’ve managed to keep up my record of never having missed a single Shark Week documentary. I gotta tell you, though, some of them are really hard to watch. While there there is undoubtedly some great educational programming focusing on science, natural history and conservation, the Discovery Channel is doubling down on the troubling recent trend of blatantly lying to viewers with fake documentaries that use actor playing scientists and CGI video. In a time when public misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists is already high, the Discovery Channel has decided to actively perpetuate misunderstanding and distrust of science and scientists. I’ve included my reviews (which originally were posted on my Facebook page after each show) of each of the documentaries below, along with a link to the Storify of my twitter reactions and links to some of the media coverage.
Upwell held another successful Sharkinar, bringing together scientists, conservationists, communicators and educators to talk about how “Team Ocean” can best take advantage of the increased public interest in sharks during Shark Week. Indeed, many members of Team Ocean were able to use the temporary increase in public interest in sharks to get important messages out to the media, and I’ve linked to and summarized some of the best examples below, but imagine how much more effective we could be if we didn’t have to first debunk the lies aired on a supposedly educational non-fiction television channel?
It’s no secret that we’ve produced quite a bit of critical commentary regarding Discovery Communications (whose properties include Shark Week, Animal Planet, TLC, and many others) over the years. This Shark Week, we’re seeing a massive spike in interest around their less-than-factual productions. Here, for your convenience, is a quick roundup of articles we’ve written about misleading, deceptive, and dangerous shows produced by Discovery Communications.
The Big Three:
So was last year’s “Megalodon: the monster shark lives.” Both Shark Week specials claim to show evidence that Carcharocles megalodon, the largest predatory shark that ever lived, is still alive. In both cases, the evidence is 100% completely and totally fake.
A disclaimer from “the monster shark lives”
Video evidence is CGI, images are photoshopped, and performances by actors claiming to be scientists and people who have seen a megalodon. There is no marine biologist named Collin Drake, he is a fictional character played by an actor. The boat that a megalodon supposedly ate in South Africa did not ever exist. There is no doubt whatsoever among scientists that megalodon is extinct and has been for millions of years.
The documentary was debunked by fact-checking site Snopes, and criticized by CNN (an interview with me), Forbes magazine, and even the Daily Show. Hundreds of other news articles* all tell the same story. Megalodon is extinct, and Shark Week made up evidence to the contrary for ratings. Worst of all, they have actively bragged about fooling people.
*A sampling of some of the many other articles criticizing Shark Week and the Discovery Channel for airing a fake documentary include Time Magazine, USA Today, National Geographic, the Huffington Post, Gawker Business Insider, the International Business Times, Discover Magazine, the Oregonian, the Examiner, Entertainment Weekly, the Mary Sue, the Inquisitr, and US Weekly. Depending on your political leanings, you can even get the same story from Fox News, Brietbart, and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Even the Wikipedia article notes that it is completely fictional.
Disclaimer: Both the Southern Fried Scientist and I received a media care package from the Discovery Channel containing a t-shirt, an adopt-a-shark packet, and DVDs of two of the premieres. While I still have some criticisms, I wanted to start this review by saying that this year’s Shark Week was a lot better than any from the past few years. Before I review each premiere I need to acknowledge that I watched all of them at their later air times, not when they originally aired. The content of each premiere is the same, but I did not see the same commercials as everyone else, I never saw the Oceana PSA, I saw very few Craig Ferguson interludes, and I don’t know if there were any pop-up ads during the shows. This was an unavoidable inconvenience and hopefully doesn’t bias my review too much.
The online shark science community has been critical of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in the past because some of the documentaries promote fear of sharks at a time when we should be promoting respect and conservation. According to the Dorsal Fin blog, this year is looking like it will bring us more of the same, though one particular story won’t be covered because it happened so recently. Since Shark Week is starting to be discussed again by the blogosphere, I am re-posting all of last year’s Shark Week coverage. This includes an interview with the Discovery Channel’s Senior Science Editor (originally here), a detailed evaluation of each of the Shark Week specials (originally here), and ten suggestions for how to improve future Shark Week programming (originally here). All of the original comments are preserved at the old site.