This post is authored by Andrew Lewin a Marine Ecologist, Marine Conservationist, and Oceanpreneur. He is the founder of SpeakUpForBlue.com, a website dedicated to help people get involved in Ocean Conservation in their daily lives, careers, and businesses.
Last week I was at a cottage with my family just north of Toronto, Ontario on a nice small lake called Harp Lake. My daughters, Jade (4) and Taya (6), love to swim; however, they are afraid of what’s beneath the lake’s surface. Their fear…sharks. They asked me if there were sharks in the lake. I said no. They asked me if I was sure. I told them “Girls, I am a marine biologist. I can tell you for sure that there are no sharks in any lake in Ontario.” I finally convinced my daughters (they listen to me because I am their father and they trust me) and we all enjoyed a nice swim.
You could imagine how surprised I was to read on the local news sites the very next day that there was a shark found in Lake Ontario. A shark in one of the Great Lakes! And there was video evidence! I took a look at the video (below) with a friend, who is also a biologist. You can easily tell that the animal was not a shark. It could have been a harbour porpoise, but it was definitely not a shark.
It doesn’t matter that the chance of a shark getting into Lake Ontario is next to nil, especially this far north (Bull sharks are known to swim upstream in to rivers, but they live in the tropics). Once people hear the term “sharks”, fear seems to set in. In fact, the Ontario Natural Resources Minister Bill Mauro was skeptical about the shark sighting, but still said that citizens should be careful.
I’m not saying people went nuts and started to riot, but people were talking about it. The story went viral. Many news agencies posted the article with a Great White Shark picture nice and big…adding to the fear of a shark presence.
Shark Week, or should I say the Discovery Channel (the company who created and currently operates Shark Week), seeing how this story was taking a turn for the worst, promptly stated that the story was a hoax.
Discovery’s President, Paul Lewis admitted in a statement the video used a “life-like prosthetic model shark” to raise the question “could sharks surface in the Great Lakes?” Mr. Lewis went on to state “This video certainly sparked the conversation about sharks.”
The conversation certainly sparked a conversation; however, the conversation was not positive for Shark Week. The marine conservation community lashed out at Shark Week for continuing to fabricate “facts” about sharks. Here are just some of the tweets found on Twitter about the hoax:
My latest: Fraud, Deception And Lies: How Discovery’s Shark Week Became The Greatest Show On Earth http://t.co/SziQgWQAs1
— Christie Wilcox (@NerdyChristie) July 18, 2014
— Melissa C. Márquez (@mcmsharksxx) July 17, 2014
Multiple Offender of Perpetuating Fiction
This is not the first time Discovery has replaced fact with fiction during Shark Week. Last year, Discovery produced an episode for Shark Week entitled Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives where the fake documentary told stories of sightings and researchers from actors and fake scientists. More lies. Many of the viewers thought the Megalodon existed as the faux documentary used actors to portray scientists, but did not tell the audience the documentary was fake. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the episode, but not many people saw it.
I understand Shark Week is designed to entertain viewers; however, shark week programming’s popularity should yield some responsibility.
Perpetuating Fear of Sharks
Many people are afraid of sharks due to its reputation as an efficient predator, large teeth, and a giant movie franchise called “Jaws.” The fear has lead to people not caring as much for sharks as they would a dolphin; even though, some dolphins can be true a-holes. When people don’t care for something, they tend not to protect it. It’s taken shark researchers and marine conservationists decades to improve the reputation of sharks so people can rally behind their protection.
Unfortunately, there are still many people who fear sharks and do not understand their importance as an apex predator. So marine conservationists and researchers are working very hard to continue to improve the reputation of sharks by telling the public that they are not human killing machines, but efficient predators of the ocean. They have a very important role as an apex predator; however, things will soon change in the oceans if 270 million sharks are killed each year will eventually cause a change if conservation of these regulators is not successful.
Discovery’s Shark Week can really help the shark conservation efforts by developing programming about some unknown shark species and their unique characteristics, behaviors and migration patterns. They should focus more on the conservation issues facing the sharks rather than the show line up for 2014, which includes: “Megalodon: The New Evidence”, 2 shows on 20-30 foot Great white sharks, and “Jaws Strikes Back.”
As a channel that influences many people around the world, Discovery should take more responsibility in disseminating factual information rather than made up and terrifying information that is designed to scare many people.
In case you are wondering, I told my daughters that there are still no sharks living in Ontario Lakes and they will not be watching Shark Week this year because I don’t want them to be terrified of going in the water. I hope to provide them with much better information from sites like shartagging.com rather than Shark Week