Sharks, lies, and videotape: Scientists doc many issues with Shark Week, marine biology’s greatest stage


Tiger Shark At Tigerbeach Bahamas. Credit: Marion Kraschl, CC BY 3.0, by way of Wikimedia Commons

Shark Week is many issues. First and foremost, it is a week of shark-themed documentary programming on the Discovery Channel. Now in its thirty third yr, it is the longest-running cable occasion in historical past. It’s the most important viewers that marine biologists and ocean conservationists get, attracting thousands and thousands of viewers who may in any other case not ever take into consideration sharks in any respect. It’s a stage that has launched careers of shark scientists and impressed many others to pursue jobs as ocean scientists.

However, a brand new evaluation exhibits that Shark Week can be deeply flawed in ways in which undermine its targets, doubtlessly harming each sharks and shark scientists. To doc simply how pervasive these points are, a staff of researchers carried out a content material and discourse evaluation of greater than 200 Shark Week episodes.

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“The public’s perception of sharks, shark science, and shark scientists is heavily influenced by Shark Week. Unfortunately, we found that Shark Week programming focuses on negative portrayals of sharks and does not often accurately portray shark research nor the diversity of expertise in the field. While critics have been saying this for some time, we now have the numbers to back it up,” stated lead creator Dr. Lisa Whitenack, affiliate professor of biology and geology at Allegheny College.

Key findings of the evaluation embody:

  • Though many exhibits ostensibly centered on scientific research, they usually relied on non-scientist hosts utilizing atypical strategies to reply a query lengthy answered by the scientific neighborhood. Many of those strategies border on wildlife harassment, and a few are far over that line. Certain repeat hosts usually stated issues that have been demonstrably false concerning the biology, conduct, or conservation of sharks.
  • Despite many exhibits happening in South Africa, the Bahamas, or Mexico, solely a handful of non-white specialists have been ever featured within the present’s 30-plus yr run, together with many examples of bringing white American hosts with no related experience midway around the globe for a present as a substitute of involving native specialists. Of the hosts and specialists featured in additional than 10 episodes, one hundred pc have been white males. Of the hosts and specialists featured in additional than 5 episodes, there have been extra males who have been non-scientists named “Mike” than there have been ladies of any title or occupation. Many ladies and other people of coloration work within the subject and have by no means been featured.
  • Narration usually contained staggering examples of needlessly selling concern. Even Shark Week episode titles promote concern and sensationalism, comparable to “Sharkpocalypse,” “Deadly Stripes,” “Great White Serial Killer,” and “Sharks: Are They Hunting Us?”.
  • Despite frequent claims from the Discovery Channel that Shark Week promotes conservation, the authors recognized simply six particular and detailed mentions of something associated to how Shark Week’s large viewers might assist sharks. Additionally, the three mostly featured species aren’t any of the species of biggest conservation concern, and most critically endangered species have by no means been featured in any respect.
Sharks, lies, and videotape: Scientists document problems with Shark Week
White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) scavenging on whale carcass. Credit: Fallows C, Gallagher AJ, Hammerschlag N (2013), CC BY 2.5, by way of Wikimedia Commons

The authors doc quite a few different points with Shark Week and likewise counsel particular actionable options to enhance for the longer term.

“We know that media representation and access to role models can play an important part in how welcoming STEM fields are to scientists from historically excluded groups. Moving away from featuring largely white male experts and towards including more diverse scientific voices and perspectives, particularly those of local experts where episodes are being filmed, would be a valuable step forward for Shark Week and shark science,” stated co-author Dr. Catherine Macdonald, lecturer on the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, and director of Field School.

“Shark Week attracts an audience of millions of people. As a public science educator, I can’t even imagine how much good they could do if they tried, even a little, to share factually accurate and useful information about shark science and conservation. As it is, Shark Week is an enormous missed opportunity,” stated senior creator Dr. David Shiffman of Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Monster shark movies harm shark conservation efforts

Provided by
Allegheny College

Sharks, lies, and videotape: Scientists doc many issues with Shark Week, marine biology’s greatest stage (2021, July 23)
retrieved 23 July 2021

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