There’s a reason why Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is such a successful hit for the network and has even elevated to cultural iconic status. The stars of the show are simply captivating.
Sharks have captured the attention and awe of humans for as far back as possible, with an ever-growing increase in interest. This has been spurred on by the network’s focus on these beasts through their highly successful hit programming known as Shark Week. People tune in yearly for the week-long TV event after months of anticipation. Our desire to see and learn more about sharks is no surprise, considering they are some of the most majestic and alluring creatures in existence.
Their size, speed, strength, ability to hunt, ferocious nature and dominance in our ocean waters is enough to keep us coming back for more. But the reality is the Discovery Channel worries that sometimes this isn’t enough to continue to draw in viewers at the rates they have become accustomed to.
So in order to keep us tuned in year after year, the creators of Shark Week have resorted to strategies and techniques many of us aren’t aware of when captivated by what we see on our screens.
Here are 25 behind the scenes facts kept hidden from viewers about one of the best shows on TV.
25 Science Sometimes Takes a Backseat to Entertainment
Over the years, Shark Week has become more and more about the ratings rather than the actual science behind these beautiful sea creatures. The show has been around for decades, and with each passing year, the entertainment value has become increasingly important to retain high viewership while the facts and research that goes along with studying these beasts have started to take a backseat.
This should come as no surprise considering today’s generation of viewers tend to have shorter attention spans which means tales of destruction, shark attacks, and stories of mayhem will always outdo facts and research by scientists and footage of calm sharks.
24 The Science is Deliberately Wrong at Times
In order to generate as much interest as possible with audiences that crave lots of action, the Discovery Channel has made a concerted effort to spin science so that it comes off as more interesting. This sometimes comes in the form of exaggerating facts about sharks, focusing on the extremes or simply not taking any action to debunk myths and instead perpetuating facts that are not true.
A perfect example of this is the very well-known and often repeated “fact” that sharks can smell blood from a mile away, which is just not true. They have allowed this notion and many others like it to be repeated on their program without dispelling it.
23 It Is Pretty Normal For Scientists to Be Lied To
It has become a pretty normal practice for featured scientists on the program to be lied to about how their work will appear on the show. There have been many documented examples of this including one scientist who went on record saying that she and her crew would be shadowed by Shark Week camera crews while they performed research on hammerheads which did happen.
She and her colleagues were filmed tagging the sharks. When the episode aired, rather than highlighting the sensory experiments they had conducted on the hammerheads, the program was focused on a made up quest to solve an urban legend from half a century ago regarding a giant hammerhead shark named “Old Hitler”.
Needless to say, examples like this one and several others have led researchers to feel betrayed by the Discovery Channel.
22 They Mainly Focus on the Great Whites While Excluding Countless Other Sharks
The ocean’s waters are filled with countless species of sharks. In fact, there are four hundred and forty different types living in our oceans which is an astounding number of varieties within the shark family.
The unfortunate truth with Shark Week is it primarily focuses on only a handful of sharks with the Great White reigning supreme year in and year out.
Although it’s easy to see why the king of all sharks along with a few others dominate the screen because of their size and legendary status, it does not contribute to the program’s overall goal of shedding light on the species as a whole when so many are being left out.
21 Weird Conservation Tips Are Offered
One of the primary selling points of Shark Week is Discovery Channel’s efforts to help with the conservation of shark wildlife. Scientists and researchers within the marine life community even tout the program’s giant influence for bringing light to such an important topic.
Although they have helped make positive contributions toward saving sharks, they have also dropped the ball when it comes to offering tips on how to help with these efforts like telling audiences to record shark attacks by humans and send them in, which seems off-putting and opportunistic.
20 Shark Week Isn’t Above Fear Mongering
The fear-mongering technique is definitely a useful and effective way to get views and the Discovery Channel has proven time and time again that they are not above going this route. In fact, it’s probably their go-to strategy as much of the programming that appears during Shark Week are re-enactments of shark attacks and people getting bitten in fatal instances.
The number of these stories being told is simply not proportionate with actual attack numbers, which causes a perception that only instills fear in viewers.
19 They Outright Make Things Up
Not only has the Discovery Channel exaggerated facts about sharks to make them more appealing, but the unfortunate truth is they have flat out fabricated facts to capture the attention of the audience.
The single biggest example of this, which famously brought the network under intense scrutiny, was their special on the megalodon, the prehistoric shark that lived millions of years ago and was the size of two school buses.
The special aired and pushed the notion that the beasts are still alive today and roaming our oceans unnoticed while scientists and our government were lying to the public about their existence and covering it up. This is simply untrue on every level and the creators came under fire for this production ultimately resulting in them having to walk back a lot of what was aired.
18 There is Some Seriously Questionable Marketing
Years ago, a video of a shark aggressively stealing fish off a fishing line and leaping onto a boat in Lake Ontario went viral, causing a stir with the residents in the area as they were not used to seeing sharks in the waters, especially not a bull shark displaying this type of behavior.
The video even sparked a message from the community and news organizations to be on the lookout and report sightings of the shark. In the end, the Discovery Channel came forward saying that this was a fabricated video they created to promote Shark Week.
It is definitely understandable to want to generate as much interest as possible, but these are some fairly unethical marketing techniques that cause unnecessary fear with the public.
17 Animal Planet Even Got in on the Action
Although this fact doesn’t necessarily pertain directly to Shark Week, it is a testament to the practices that are deployed for the program.
Discovery Channel’s child network Animal Planet has even adopted similar strategies with the most egregious one being a recent pair of documentaries aimed at convincing audiences that mermaids are real by including fake footage of the mythical creatures designed to be passed off as real images.
This is simply irresponsible television production, especially considering their mission to educate the public about animals and wildlife.
16 Shark Week Carries A Lot of Weight with Viewers
Despite the questionable techniques in use by the makers of Shark Week, it should be noted that there is still plenty of truth in the information they provide to audiences, much of which is useful and important to understanding sharks. With that said, it should come as no surprise that most of the public gets their knowledge of sharks from this program, so what they say and show carries a lot of weight.
In fact, their influence is so profound that a poll suggested two-thirds of audiences believe megalodon was still alive after their documentary aired which is simply untrue.
15 Real Scientists Have to Spend Time Countering Shark Week
One harsh side effect to the misinformation that is spread on the week-long program is the work that marine life scientists have to put into debunking myths that have been widely accepted by the public.
When these researches are participating in speaking engagements or teaching classes, they have to field questions and help clarify and disprove things like the existence of the megalodon, sharks being able to smell blood a mile away, and mermaids being real.
14 Their Programming Is Hurting Their Credibility with the Science Community
Because the exaggerations and fabrications have gotten so egregious, it should come as no surprise that those who work in the field and make a living by studying and researching sharks are starting to turn their backs on a program that was once seen as a blessing to them. Now, scientists are starting to refuse to appear on the network, opting to go with the more reality-based BBC programming.
Turning down opportunities to appear on TV in front of millions to push their agendas stems from scientist’s fear of misrepresentation of their work and how it would appear to colleagues as well.
13 The Producers Edit To Distort What Scientists Say
Part of what makes experts fear their work will be misrepresented comes from actual instances in which this has happened. In fact, it’s occurred on numerous occasions.
One of the more over the top examples of this came from a scientist who spent hours being interviewed on camera by the Discovery Channel about his lifelong research into sharks. As the interview was wrapping up, the anchor threw in a question toward the end about a fictional “Rooken Shark” in Lousiana which the expert stated was unlikely to exist.
When the footage aired, his hours of dialogue were left out and his words were distorted and superimposed to make it seem like his entire reason for appearing on air was to promote the existence of the fictional shark.
12 The Fact Checking is Very Loose
It has become evident that entertainment value trumps facts and one of the bigger examples of this happened on a recent episode that explored a giant submarine shark in the ocean waters around Africa. Sadly, this shark was made up in the 1970’s as a social experiment to determine how easy it was to fool readers into believing something made up.
Without any real fact checking, the creators of the show dedicated an episode to something that was ironically made up to trick audiences into believing something that was outright untrue.
11 Finished Products Are Changed for Dramatic Effect
There have been instances in the past when a film crew shoots an entire segment and the production crew has turned in a finished product for the network to review and approve. Years ago, there was a special focusing on the sinking of a US warship, the USS Indianapolis and how the survivors in the water had to deal with sharks after the ship went down. The survivors were brought in to do interviews and speak about their experiences which made for an emotional and moving special.
When the network reviewed the finalized version, they ended up making significant changes to it by inserting more survivors in the water under intense duress to up the fear level while also changing the name of the special to “Ocean of Fear”.
10 Ratings Mean Dramatizations Aren’t Going Away
Shark Week is easily king at the Discovery Channel, topping every other programming event held by the network by significant margins. The most recent week-long special during the summer of 2018 reached 39.4 million viewers in total.
That is an astounding number for a special dedicated to wildlife. With that said, when something continues to be so successful year after year and in fact is only getting more popular with time, it stands to reason that whatever formula is in place is not going anywhere anytime soon.
This means the dramatizations, over the top reenactments, and loose handling of the facts is here to stay until the ratings dictate otherwise.
9 Sharks Are Baited For Better Shots
Although it’s likely most viewers are aware of this, it doesn’t make it any less startling. It is fairly normal practice for film crews shooting Shark Week specials to bait the sharks they are filming into reacting violently in order to get a more intense and captivating shot. This makes for great TV, but it is simply not reality.
The show is essentially making a docile shark like the hammerhead look as if it is always on the prowl for violence. This is simply not the case. Most sharks would ignore a boat filming them, but after hours of being baited, it’s only normal for them to finally react.
8 Longest Running Cable TV Program in History
Most fans of the show will be surprised to find out that Shark Week is actually the longest running program in history on cable TV. The key here is the fact that it is on cable TV, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable. The show debuted in 1988, three decades ago on the network and has never looked back since.
Within ten years of its debut, Shark Week had become a phenomena building up a following that was enough for network producers to pour more money and resources into it, making it the giant hit we see today.
7 Legend Says Shark Week Was Thought up in a Bar on a Napkin
Like many other great ideas, the story behind the creation of the show involves a bar. We have all heard of life-changing successes being thought up in a bar over drinks and Shark Week is apparently no different. Legend has it that in the mid-1980’s when network creators were at a bar after work over drinks, they were talking about ways to draw in more viewers.
Someone threw out the idea of dedicating an entire slate of programming for a full week to sharks. The thought was scribbled down on a napkin and the rest is history.
6 Phantom Cameras Have Been a Big Part of the Success
Before the invention of phantom cameras, Shark Week was mostly testimonies shared by people being interviewed along with shots of sharks being baited to surface above water. Survivors of shark attacks, scientists and the like would provide stories of their interactions with the beasts resembling campfire tales.
It was a successful recipe for its time, but when the phantom camera came around, allowing film crews to get shots of the sharks up close and underneath the water in ways that had never before been possible, the opportunities to tell their stories became endless. The result has been intense images and film of sharks in their natural habitat that had never been captured before.