Target: David Zaslav, President & CEO of Discovery Communications
Goal: Reduce portrayals of violence and horror associated with sharks in television programming and increase the promotion of their conservation
The Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” series of television programs, which run during the summer, focus predominantly on sharks as hunters, using flashy editing, suspenseful horror music, and a show of blood and gore from shark feeding frenzies. While this type of nature programming garners high ratings, catering to humankind’s fascination with fright as a way to make sense of the unknown, and promotes sharks as popular predatory animals, it does little to increase shark conservation through education.
Sharks have received a negative and misleading reputation as the subject of popular works in horror fiction. Their portrayal as blood-thirsty man-eaters has increased people’s fear of these magnificent animals when in reality, they rarely attack humans. Sharks are threatened by humans far more than we are threatened by them, with at least 70 million sharks slaughtered for the harvest of their fins, jaws and other trophy parts, or as accidental by-catch entangled in fishing gear each year.
Although sharks are impressive predators with highly refined senses of smell, hearing, taste, sight, touch, and sensitivity to electric fields and water pressure that make them highly skilled at catching prey, there are many other interesting things about the lives of sharks than just their hunting habits. Furthermore, the foraging tactics of sharks should not be portrayed as menacing and horrific on a network that claims to provide informative factual programs.
Including more scientific discussion of the evolution of sharks, the behavioral ecology of various shark species, and conservation issues such as habitat destruction, pollution, overfishing, and overhunting of sharks would create programming that is equally intriguing and provide a sympathetic portrayal of sharks that is essential in order to convince audiences that they need protection. Please urge the Discovery Channel to stop sensationalizing sharks as fearsome animals and to create shark programming that focuses more on conservation and other interesting aspects of shark biology and behavior.
Dear David Zaslav,
While “Shark Week” is an extremely popular series of television programs that commands attention for the magnificent creatures it is dedicated to, the portrayal of sharks as blood-thirsty hunters does little to educate audiences on all aspects of shark life, including their decimation by human activity. The excessive focus on sharks as cunning attackers, accompanied by suspenseful horror soundtracks, and close up images of their teeth and bloody feeding frenzies exploits these misunderstood animals as “monsters” to be feared. Creating programs that are educational about various aspects of shark behavior and their natural history would be a refreshing approach to engage Discovery Channel audiences during “Shark Week.”
The current series aired during “Shark Week” caters to the intrigue of sharks as top predators, but also continues to frighten people by sensationalizing attacks and “close encounters” with sharks that are just trying to forage in their natural environment. The Discovery Channel is in a position to greatly help improve the reputation of sharks by having its producers use their talent and creativity to depict sharks with sympathy and healthy respect instead of exploiting them as a source of gory entertainment.
I urge you to shift toward more responsible programming that works to dispel misconceptions about the dangers of sharks and highlights their importance in balancing ecosystems. Conservation-focused shark programming has the potential to alter human attitudes toward these animals by accurately showing them as complex and diverse animals that are facing environmental challenges. Making these changes in future “Shark Week” presentations will immensely improve the credibility of the Discovery Channel’s conservation message.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: George Probst via Flickr