All this week, millions of people have been tuning into Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s popular annual tribute – now in its 28th year – to the ocean’s most well-known predators. The weekly extravaganza has a reputation for portraying sharks in an extremely negative way despite the fact that many shark species are in need of protection, not misplaced fear.
According to TIME magazine, up to 100 million sharks are killed every year, whether it’s for the popular Chinese dish shark fin soup or as accidental bycatch. Meanwhile, fewer than five people are killed by sharks every year. Based on these statistics, you’re far more likely to die from a falling coconut or the flu than you are to be killed by a shark.
The good news, however, is that Discovery Channel has declared this year that their fake shows, like the Megaladon “documentary” and Voodoo Sharks, which spread misinformation and lies about sharks are finally finished. Despite this change in focus, they’re still selectively choosing which facts to highlight and which ones to disregard…especially in shows like “Sharks of the Shadowland” which claims a certain species of shark is hunting scuba divers in packs and “Return of the Great White Serial Killer”.
Television programming like this, that depicts the ocean as a violent place filled with blood thirsty killers, is what causes people to overestimate the danger to themselves when they go in the water and doesn’t inspire the public to conserve the oceans and the wildlife who live there. Friends of Animals has worked hard to protect struggling species of sharks in the wild and recently proposed protections for the common thresher shark, a species that is heavily exploited by anglers who enjoy the sick “sport” of capturing these sharks who are known for putting up a significant fight, and fishermen who hunt them for their fins, liver oil, tails and flesh.
We also were able to gain endangered species protections for a scalloped hammerhead sharks and, following an earlier petition by Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians, the Fisheries Service has already proposed to list four distinct communities of Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrma lewini) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
But we know that there is still so much work left to be done and the Discovery Channel should be using its vast reach to protect the creatures that have earned the network millions of dollars instead of damaging their already fragile reputations.