It all started with a SPLASH! Shark Week premiered for the first time in July of 1988. In fact, Newsweek states that “it has become television's longest-running event in history, according to Discovery.” The idea was born at a bar and scribed onto a napkin! The week has truly become an annual holiday for some viewers. It has sparked controversy, awareness, and a craze amongst fans. Last year, there were 34.9 million people who watched Shark Week!
Shark Week has brought time, awareness, and fandom to sharks. Sharks have long been misunderstood, under-represented, and feared by people who do not understand their importance and adaptability. The week-long event has awarded many conservationists with potential donators, funding sources and provided countless opportunities for publicity. Millions of dollars have been donated to conservation and non-profit organizations because of the impact of Shark Week over the years.
Discovery has also positively affected marine conservation by hosting beach cleanups in multiple cities and vetting anti-fin legislation. Shark Week’s Instagram has featured facts, researchers, and shark enthusiasts sharing positive stories and information about sharks. Since 2010, there has been a change in Shark Week where there were increased messages about conservation, education, and scientists. Resources such as Sharkopedia and the Shark Finbassadors program have created space for educational and positive programming for sharks. There are many researchers and shark experts that appreciate the screen time for sharks and see it as an opportunity to further shark conservation and awareness.
Over the years, Shark Week has taken a “shocking” and “dramatic” approach on portraying sharks and not always focused on science and facts. Previously, sharks were not always shown in an unbiased way on certain segments of Shark Week. Additionally, there have been fake documentaries played during Shark Week, and several attacks of sharks on humans highlighted throughout the week. One such example of this was the Megalodon segment which featured “modern-day attacks” in 2013 (NBC). This year, celebrities will star in a Shark Week film called “Capsized: Blood in the Water” where Shark Week shows a group of tiger sharks stalking and attacking a group of people whose boat capsizes after a storm. For a large portion of viewers, Shark Week serves as the main source of their knowledge and exposure to sharks. Because of this, scientists have urged and suggested for more research-based, science-driven content to be showcased during Shark Week.
During Shark Week, there are generally a few main species that are highlighted and sometimes victimized due to their statistics of human attacks. These are the great white shark, the bull shark, and the tiger shark. Verbiage throughout Shark Week titles remains negative: monster, alien, ninja, killer, stalker, blood, etc. The nature of these titles and segments exists around a theme of sharks when seen in relation to humans. Shark enthusiasts do not always support Shark Week in full capacity due to the controversial messaging exhibited throughout Shark Week.
This year, tune in and decide for yourself your thoughts on Shark Week! There is already a lot of controversy surrounding Shark Week, but its mission remains the same. Discovery states that the purpose of Shark Week was based on “devoting to conservation efforts and correcting misconceptions about sharks.” In “The Week”, “David Shiffman argued, "At its best, Shark Week educates people about the most misunderstood animals on our planet while inspiring them to protect the ocean. At its worst, it perpetuates fear and misunderstanding." If anything, let’s use this week as a time to celebrate sharks! It is pretty amazing that sharks get their own “week” on television, and with our continued support sharks can always be discussed and shared in a positive and respectful light.
Written By: Bailey Higa