Discovery Channel Spreads Shark Fear

"Chaplin" Swims By, Showing Off. Shark Diving was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Life. Photo by VP

"Chaplin" Swims By, Showing Off. Shark Diving was One of the Greatest Experiences of My Life. Photo by VP

I was shocked and dismayed the other day when I saw the new commercials promoting Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Once again, the television network is misrepresenting this magnificent creature in the name of ratings.

The first short spot did not grab my attention or bother me too much. It showed a guy floating on his back in the ocean with his big belly protruding into the sky. After about nine seconds, he was taken under and the picture switched to a frame that said Shark Week premieres Aug. 2.
 
It is the second clip that infuriated me. You see the hands of a guy removing a lens cap from a camera, as many amateurs do while the film is running. He then says something like “Hey Biv,” to this girl who is in the water, hanging on to the edge of the boat. In a cheerful voice, she says, “Hi. Hello Mom, hello Dad, hello kids at home.” As soon as she gets out that final word, she is violently yanked back into the water and taken under. The screen switches to an underwater view with the words Shark Week oozing blood.
 
Promoting the special Shark Week programming this way shows a complete disregard for the facts by the Discovery Channel. They say the series is meant to help with conservation efforts of sharks, and yet, all the commercials and promotional materials spread illogical and unfounded fear. Who exactly is going to want to save a shark after watching them attack people all week? If people claim to know about sharks based on the misinformation presented by the Discovery Channel, they know nothing.
 
When people seek out the facts for themselves, instead of relying on a network desperate for viewers, the problem of shark attacks proves not so chilling. In a review of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) as presented on the Ichthyology site of the Florida Museum of Natural History, it is discovered that there were 118 alleged incidents of “shark-human interaction” in all of 2008 worldwide.
 
“Upon review, 59 of these incidents represented confirmed cases of unprovoked shark attacks on humans,” the ISAF said (1). “Overall, the 1990’s had the highest attack total of any decade and the first decade of the 21st century will exceed that total. The growth in shark attack numbers does not necessarily mean that there is an increase in the rate of shark attack, rather it most likely is reflective of the ever-increasing amount of time spent in the sea by humans, which increases the odds of interaction between the two affected parties.”
 
Out of the millions of people participating in recreational activities in the ocean, the number of unprovoked attack is very low — 59 in 2008 and 71 in 2007. While there is great trauma involved if one is attacked, the odds of being attacked are astronomical.
 
According to a quiz on the MSN Encarta encyclopedia site, the odds of being attacked by a shark are roughly one in 8 million (2). You have a better chance of dying from the following: Falling down the stairs — 1 in 200,000; adverse reaction to the sting of a bee, wasp or hornet — 1 in 5.9 million; or drowning in your bathtub — 1 in 800,000. Where are the shows about these dangers? Where are the dramatic promotional spots of people being chased by bees, dropping their towels to step into the tub or carrying laundry down the steps? We don’t sell fear of these things, so why sell fear when it comes to sharks?
 
In 2000 (actually the highest year on record for shark attacks with 79, according to the ISAF), my best friend Clay Morgan and I went scuba diving with sharks off Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas. It was hands-down one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will never forget it.
 
Yes, it was scary. When Clay first told me he was going to do it, I thought he was completely insane. Then, he told me he was going to do it by himself. Overcoming my natural fear, I said, “No, you’re not. I’m going with you. That is, if you want me to.”
 
Before we went, I purposely watched the movie, “Deep Blue Sea,” figuring that would be about the worst it could get. Surprisingly, it did serve to calm my nerves, somehow inoculating me to the fear.
 
Once we there, cruising out to the dive spot, I asked the boat’s captain if he had ever had a customer bitten by a shark. He said no, but he had heard some stories from other captains. In the stories he heard, however, the humans had always done something stupid and provoked the shark, such as the guy who grabbed the shark’s tail so it would turn around for a picture.
 
Well, of course the shark bit that fool. A dog bites you, too, when you suddenly grab its tail. Most people I know would attack you if you unexpectedly grabbed their derriere. This is not an uncommon reaction by most animals to such an act.
 
As we stood at the aft of the boat, preparing to jump into the crystal clear water, fear and adrenaline surged in my body. I could see the cold, dark shadows of dozens of sharks swimming below me. I began to have second thoughts. Just then, Clay jumped. I shrugged my shoulders, thought what the heck and jumped in after him (the captain told me later that he was about to push me in because I was taking too long!).
 
Once we were down with the sharks — grey reefs and blacktips — my fear disappeared as I was mesmerized by the sight of these awesome creatures gliding through the water around me. There is just no way for me to completely explain my emotions as the sharks surrounded me. My only suggestion is for all of you to do it someday for yourselves.
 
I nicknamed the one in the photograph above “Chaplin,” because he was a ham, coasting slowly towards me and rotating his body as he cruised by me, showing me what a great swimmer he was, even upside down. It was just a completely surreal and ethereal experience for me.
 
That is what I remember about my experience with sharks — I remember how dreamlike the experience was, how heavenly. I do not remember the fear.
 
Don’t buy into the garbage the Discovery Channel throws at you to get you to watch. Just go shark diving for yourself to discover the truth about these incredible animals.
 
My only suggestions are that you stay on the first floor (thus avoiding those deadly steps) and you go unwashed (no need for those scary baths!). If you follow those two simple suggestions when you take your shark-diving trip, I can almost guarantee you will be all right.
 
 
 
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Feel free to share your comments below! 
Advertisements

8 responses to “Discovery Channel Spreads Shark Fear

  1. Steve Irwin is possibly turning in his grave. He always taught that we should respect wildlife. I prefer to see them at a distance.

    (I knew you and Clay were crazy.) ;0)

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Mary,

      I would love to do it again someday. I will do it. I can take my boys! And, now that I don’t smoke, I’ll actually be able to stay down more than 35-40 minutes!!

      VP

  2. Great post, VP, but I think a statistic you quote is a bit deceiving.

    “According to a quiz on the MSN Encarta encyclopedia site, the odds of being attacked by a shark are roughly one in 8 million.”

    Don’t you suppose that stat applies to the average person, based on the fact that most will never venture into shark territory, or even the ocean? I can only imagine the number goes way up when you just include people who venture into shark territory.

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Robb,

      I am certain that statistic is applied to all people living in America. I think at the site it even based it off 38 unprovoked attacks in the United States out of a population of 300 million.

      I have no clue what the statistic is for a surfer or dive instructor, as you point out. I know for a blogger from Missouri, the threat has to be extremely low!

      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. Have a great day.

      VP

  3. Hmmm… First off, what do you expect from commercials? They don’t have to have much to do with the program’s content (though they may). They are there purely to hook viewers. The program itself may dispel the very myths the commercials seem to support. I’m not defending DIscovery’s commercials, just noting that in the Age of Depravity (ushered in by the Age of Aquarius) this is S.O.P. Sex, violence, etc. sell. It sucks, but there it is. Just one reason I loathe TV.

    Beyond that, I hate raw statistics such as those quoted. They’re pretty meaningless. Death by stairs? What stairs? Does that include escalators? Three steps down from the front door? Are poorly lit stairs with narrow inside turns more dangerous than others? Are they only counting people they know use stairs? In the US or worldwide? A guy who lives in a one story house in the rural midwest had a far lower chance of death by stairs than someone who lives in a highrise in a poor part of NYC or Atlanta.

    Sharks *are* dangerous, just like grizzlies and people. While the commercials you describe stink, I’m far more curious what the actual program says. There are ways to be safer around people (including not going into certain areas unless you are armed and know how to use said arms), bears and sharks. How well does the actual show cover these rules WRT people and sharks? Does it differentiate between types of sharks? I would expect that to matter just as grizzlies are more prone to violently defend “their territory” than most other types of bears (or so I am told).

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Miles,

      It is true commercials are meant to “hook” people as you say (great pun, by the way!), but even the shows during Shark Week have changed over the years. The programming used to be much more informational and educational about sharks, if anything dispelling myths. I stopped watching several years back when the programming changed to a disproportionate share of shark attack stories and other shows using scare tactics.

      It has only become worse each year as the Discovery Channel tries to lure people back (wow, it is nearly impossible to avoid the puns) to Shark Week. Now, such a large proportion of the programming is devoted to shark attacks and scare tactics that the valid educational programming is missed.

      You are right about the different types of sharks. I swam with grey reefs and blacktips that range in size from six to nine feet. With my fins and tank on, I was as long and bulky as them. I did not, nor would I, swim with Great Whites without being in a cage, and probably not even then. Tiger sharks would require some careful thought as well.

      I am going into their territory, so I have to respect and remember that. They are incredible to see and I am just afraid Shark Week now gives the impression that they are manhunters, which is so far from the truth.

      Take care, Miles. Thanks for reading and sharing your opinion.

      VP

  4. walter harrison

    I think the problem with main stream media is not just with animals shows but other things as well. I will get to that in a bit. It always never stops to amaze me how many times when they depict a grizzly in the woods roaring at hikers and almost attacks. I want to say duh. Bears are territorial, that is why they leave their paw prints on trees to warn other animals do not come here- bear here be warned. Yet the grizzly who is minding his own business is shown as some wild aggressive animal who is ready to attack people. When the reality of it is that he is just defending his territory, like any human would do if someone came into their house. A buddy of mine told me of a story where by an adult put their child on the back of a wild buffalo. The child was saved from any harm, but the man was almost trampled to death. Which leads me into my next beef. I think main stream media has a responsibility not to show certain things such as popular movies such fight club, the matrix. We had kids that would mug people and then tell them they had been initiated into the fight club- I wonder where they got that. The matrix, and also even sin city shows people dressed in black (the good guys) beating up cops, and people who look like the FBI. In sin city the bad guy, a three time loser is framed for murder, but while trying to escape the law by beating up the police, he goes after another bad guy, and he is looked on as a good guy for doing this. When did the good guys become the bad guys and vice versa. In games such vice city you get bonus points for killing cops, what kind of message does this send to our youth. Recently, I have just become incensed with moves such as the happening, which is a god awful movie about some wierd thing causing mass suicide. Why would any one make such a movie, and I truly lost the point to that movie. But even more aggravating to me are movies such alien vs predator requiem, the mist, and there are quite a few others, that depict children dying. In both these movies they could have taken out those scenes, and I probably would have enjoyed them instead getting angry over seeing that, and I am sorry if you need a child to die in a movie to sell, it is not worth watching.

    • Vantage Point Productions

      Walter,

      Wow. It seems like we struck a nerve. I do think that youth imitate what they see in the media and this does lead to problems. We live in a culture saturated by violence.

      In this world, no wonder the Discovery Channel has to use scare tactics to attract viewers. It is the only way to be heard over all the other rabble.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Have a great weekend.

      VP

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s