Discovery Channel’s Shark Week event has been a television hit for decades, but what’s resonated with audiences hasn’t always done the same for shark scientists —plenty see serious flaws in the programming.
One group of scientists has taken their criticism to the next level. They watched all 32 years of Shark Week to analyze who is represented on the shows and how they portray sharks and shark science.
Their study’s found a stunning lack of diversity when it comes to who they show on screen, which does not reflect the real world of shark science. For example, among people featured in more than five episodes, there are more men named Mike who aren’t scientists than there are women. The percentage of black scientists featured is even smaller.
Additionally, the study found many examples of mixed messaging where Shark Week’s conservation is diluted by sensational and negative portrayals of sharks.
“It’s not all bad, but holy cow, when it’s bad, it’s bad,” Allegheny College biology and geology professor Lisa Whitenack, the forthcoming study’s lead author, told us for our latest episode of our “Shark Tales” podcast.
Listen to our free podcast, “Shark Tales,” which explores the world of sharks in New England with our partners at the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. It’s on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
When we checked in with the Discovery Channel about the findings, which were presented at a major conference last month, they told us, “We will pass on commenting on a study that has yet to pass any scientific approvals and stick by our actual scientists and conservation efforts and partners.” They also pointed to the good the series’ advocacy has done for sharks.
Also in this episode of “Shark Tales,” we once again talk to Jasmin Graham, CEO of Minorities in Shark Sciences, about the lack of diversity in Shark Week. Listen above, or wherever you get your podcasts.
A group of black women in shark science have come together to form Minorities in Shark Science to encourage young women of color to become marine scientists and offer them opportunities to launch them into the field.