To the delight of ichthyologists and laymen alike, Shark Week 2009 begins tonight on the Discovery Channel. The week-long series has aired every summer since 1987, and, as a result, Shark Week has become something of an institution among fans of the Discovery Channel.
The first documentary to air on Shark Week 2009 is titled, “Blood in the Water,” and is a look into the series of shark attacks that occurred off the coast of New Jersey back in 1916. The attacks inspired writer Peter Benchley to pen the novel “Jaws” which, as you probably know, was made into a wildly popular movie of the same name. Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is widely considered to be a watershed film and the first summer blockbuster.
I, like nearly everyone who has watched the film “Jaws,” find it to be rather horrifying. In fact, I probably avoided taking up the sport of surfing (a sport and culture that is an indelible part of the Southern California beach communities where I spent a great deal of time during the halcyon days of my youth) because of the film “Jaws.”
To be sure, being eaten by a ferocious Great White shark has go to be one of the most unpleasant ways to meet your maker. Thus, one could be excused for minimizing one’s chances of meeting one face to face – or “jaws to face” as the case may be.
But the Nature Conservancy considers my fear of sharks to be somewhat misguided. It claims that sharks have been mislabeled as man-eaters, and they have more to fear from humans than humans have to fear from sharks. The Nature Conservancy points out that more people are killed each year by dogs, snakes and bees than they are by sharks.
As a result of this fear and misinformation – which the Nature Conservancy claims is perpetuated by the media – conservation efforts with respect to sharks has become increasingly difficult. It turns out that sharks are, as the Nature Conservancy notes, “among the most biologically vulnerable creatures in the ocean.”
Until doing a little research, I was unaware of the plight of sharks – and just how vulnerable and threatened they are. (They are vigorously hunted for their fins and meat and thus many species are in danger of becoming extinct.)
I fear sharks, but now I also have a great deal of respect for them. Though fearsome, they are undoubtedly magnificent creatures who have a right to thrive and contribute to ocean ecosystems.
According to the Nature Conservancy, sharks are valuable on a number of fronts. Fishing and diving industries benefit from them, as do coastal economies. In addition, their exceptional immune systems are being studied by scientists and may help us improve our ability to fight and prevent diseases.
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, dsc.discovery.com