The Discovery Channel's incredibly popular Shark Week programming began Sunday night and has helped raise millions of dollars for conservation, but the network's decision to lean on more sensational topics has been a target for criticism from scientists for years. This year, experts are again concerned that the programs lean too heavily on shark attacks on humans and too little on science and conservation efforts.
This year, Discovery added the first scripted, made-for-TV movie to the Shark Week line-up. Josh Duhamel stars in Capsized: Blood in the Water, about a real 1982 incident in which a yacht crew was followed by tiger sharks after the boat sank in a storm.The film debuts on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET.
Dr. Stephen Kaijura, a shark expert at Florida Atlantic University, told NBC News he was disappointed to see the film on the schedule, since it focuses on sensational aspects of the story.
"It's really disappointing that you have so much potential with a really interesting subject and that potential is lost because they focus on sensational aspects," Kaujura said. "Here you have a really diverse group of animals — they are a fascinating group because of their diversity and evolutional history. But so much of that is ignored with shows called 'Blood in the Water' or 'Danger Beach.' You're missing out on an incredible opportunity here."
Other programs on the schedule this year have titles like Sharkwrecked: Crash Landing, Air Jaws Strikes Back, Great White Kill Zone: Guadalupe, Isle of Jaws: Blood Brothers, I Was Prey: Shark Week and Sharks Gone Wild 2. It is shows like those that helped Shark Week reach 35 million viewers last year.
The sensational programming all seems to be part of the strategy to get some feet through the door, as Discovery points out it has given back. The network helped raise millions for conservation and supports anti-fin legislation and gives press access to scientists ahead of Shark Week. Discovery also works with the Ocean Conservancy to host beach clean-ups in Los Angeles, New York and Knoxville.
"I think at the end of the day given the popularity of Shark Week and the reach that Discovery has globally, we can bring more people into the tent," Discovery executive Howard Swartz told NBC News. "And however we can do that, we will try to reach as broad an audience as possible."
Discovery has taken a big step since the infamous 2013 special Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, which turned out to be completely fictional even though it was presented as a documentary. Following that incident, Discovery said it would no longer included docufiction programming during Shark Week.
In 2017, Discovery was criticized for advertising a race between Olympian Michael Phelps and a shark, as viewers tuned in to learn Phelps actually swam against a CGI animal.
However, Discovery still airs shows about the Megalodon, an ancient giant shark. This year's Shark Week kicked off with Expedition Unknown: Megalodon.
You can find the full Shark Week schedule by clicking here.
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