Earlier today I saw someone suggest that most of the people who create such a buzz about Shark Week on social media only watch about one program, and then they just keep talking about Discovery’s most popular week. I tend to agree with that sentiment, because if as many people watched Shark Week as devotedly as they claimed that they did then they would probably be less enthused about it. I say this as someone who buys into the hype yearly, and keeps turning over to Discovery to see what each year brings. The whole process is a lot like thinking that maybe your grandparents didn’t buy you clothes this year for Christmas when you were a kid. What typically airs during Shark Week are reruns. A LOT of reruns.
At some point over the years Shark Week had reached a point where really it should have just been called “Great whites breaching water and attacking decoy seals week,” but I guess that is a much harder pitch. So instead of just rehashing the same great white shows, coupled occasionally with poorly reenacted shark attack stories, Discovery decided to go big or go home and build up this year’s Shark Week around the greatest of great whites – megalodon. Now, if you don’t know, megalodon was a prehistoric shark that was over three times the size of a great white. It is also very much extinct, yet it remains a fascinating creature. It makes sense then that Discovery would try to build its yearly celebration of things that can literally chomp your limbs off around the ancestor of the ocean’s apex predator.
Did they air a special about the creature’s predatory diet during its prehistoric reign? No. Did they bring in highly renowned marine biologists to discuss possible theories (of which there are a few) as to why such a large predator went extinct? No. What they did was air one of the worst attempts at a scientific expedition to prove the existence of an animal that has long been extinct. Without any proof, evidence or any semblance of scientific data they produced “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” and Will Wheaton has even suggested that the network issue an apology.
Everything that Wheaton says is very much on point as this “documentary” was no more authentic than The Blair Witch Project. Seriously. The “marine biologist” that hosted the show? Paid actor. That “found footage” that somehow survived a boat sinking, a shark attack and the harsh ocean environments? Completely staged. There wasn’t even a disclaimer that what viewers were watching was a total hoax. Nothing more than conjecture and ridiculous speculation. Oh, but they had pictures of big dorsal fins, so I guess that allows them to make “informed” hypotheses.
Since it aired on Sunday there has been a huge amount of backlash, from both casual viewers and the scientific community alike. Not just because they at no point told the audience the truth. Not just because they falsely presented information that lead to this ridiculous viewer poll. Because they took an opportunity to educate a mass audience on one of the ocean’s most fascinating ancient animals, and used it to produce a Shark Week rendition of “Finding Bigfoot,” or worse “Mermaids.” When something like the “I fucking love science” Facebook page has well over 6 million likes it is clear that there is an audience for actual science and information. Combined with Shark Week being the most popular period of programming for the Discovery Chanel, there is no reason that a factual and real documentary about megalodon shouldn’t have been produced instead.
Now, go and listen to this on loop for two hours, and you will have learned more than you would have from watching “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.”