07 August, 2009

Shark Week 2009

Not to say that it hasn't been exciting, but I think this year's Shark Week is a little too focused on the "shark attack" angle. It could use a few more "mysteries of the deep" type episodes to round out the action. Plus, it's been a little Great White-centric. Great Whites are undoubtedly fascinating, but there are certainly a lot of other interesting species among sharkdom. Perhaps of notice is the fact that this year there doesn't seem to be an official Shark Week host, as there have been in some previous years (Survivorman Les Stroud, Mike Rowe of 'Dirty Jobs', The Mythbusters, Nigel Marvin, etc.). Let's take a look at this year's premiere episodes:

Blood in the Water (2 hour opening premiere)

This is a special based on the story that inspired Jaws (yeah, I know the jokes I made about that story elsewhere). It occurred in the summer of 1916 when a rogue shark (believed to be a Great White) went on a killing spree near the beaches of New Jersey, marking a precursor to the modern day shark hysteria (in America, at least).

You'd be surprised how much the narrative of this special feels like one of those A&E serial killer specials or something. It's a pretty remarkable story, with the rogue shark navigating up a semi-freshwater channel (inviting unverified speculation that the culprit may have been a Bull Shark) to attack swimming kids, resulting in a grimly humorous scene depicting the villagers in a "torches and pitchforks" style mob tossing dynamite into the river (I kid you not). And amusing though it sounds, the story is pretty harrowing at times.

The pseudo-documentary style of the special, with the same actors in the interviews as those playing the parts in the dramatizations, was a little bit disorienting at first - since in most cases of shark attack shows like this, the interviews are with the real people involved, and then the dramatizations feature actors, since most of the time actual footage of the incident is lacking. But of course, considering that this event occurred in 1916, I doubt any of the involved parties are still living...

Anyway, the suspected shark was eventually captured and killed - not by one of the enraged shark hunters, interestingly, but by a local fisherman/taxonomist who just happened to encounter it in his net. They discovered bones in its stomach, but without DNA profiling (the bones were later lost), they couldn't be 100% sure it was their killer.

Deadly Waters

Survivorman Les Stroud counts down the 5 deadliest waters (with regards to shark attacks) in the world. The basic formula is sharks + humans = deadly waters (clearly, this is not rocket science), but this is moreso the case in places which have lots of tourists (more humans), and nutrient-rich waters with lots of sea life (more food, thus more sharks, as well as more aggressive sharks). The Caribbean (and its Caribbean Reef Sharks) and the South Pacific (with its aggressive Bulls - they have the highest level of testosterone of any animal) come in at numbers 5 and 4, respectively, for just those reasons. The Great White swims into the spotlight for the number 3 and 2 spots - South Africa (including False Bay and Seal Island, described in more detail below) and Australia. The number one deadliest waters in the world goes to the murky vacationer-rich waters of Florida, with more shark attacks than the previous four locations combined!

Day of the Shark 2

More harrowing tales of gruesome shark attacks (viewer discretion advised), including one in which a Great White unbelievably manages to get trapped inside a shark cage with two divers! D: I also seem to recall a story about an arm that got bitten off, was retrieved from the mouth of the shark (after it was dragged onto the beach and shot), and subsequently reattached (successfully and functionally) to the unfortunate victim, who miraculously survived. (Actually, that was in Sharkbite Summer - see how all these shark attack shows blend together?)

Sharkbite Summer

This episode recounts the events of the summer of 2001, which was dubbed the "Summer of the Shark" in America, due to the media surrounding a spate of violent shark attacks. Ironically, data indicates that it was an average summer - actually a few shark attacks fewer than the previous summer, but the media and public consciousness blew it out of proportion (surprise, surprise). There's a humorous scene where a bunch of news choppers are flying about over a sea swarming with sharks, describing it as the sharks amassing an army for an invasion to take back the beaches. XD

Great White Appetite

In this episode, the appetite of one of the largest apex predators on the planet is singled out for study. An all-you-can-eat tuna buffet is set up to determine how much a Great White can eat before becoming full (the answer: as much as a quarter of its body weight). The White's eating habits and patterns are also studied, including (unsurprisingly) a visit to the infamous Seal Island in False Bay, located at the southern tip of Africa - the home of "Air Jaws", a phenomenon where Great Whites launch themselves out of the water in a torpedo-like attack on the seals swimming at the surface (technical term: polaris breach). There are also *two* humorous occasions of a Great White biting into a boat - in the first one, the shark takes a chunk out of the inflatable bumper of a large raft, while the host is sitting in it. :o

Shark After Dark

Shark After Dark is as close as this year's episodes get to a "mysteries of the deep" theme, despite their first stop being Seal Island (yet again) - although the night time footage of Great Whites performing polaris breaches (in the dark!) is pretty exciting. Luckily, the episode moves on to some more unique species, as the crew studies the behavior of the prehistoric Six Gill Shark in the Puget Sound near Seattle, which lives deep in the ocean by day and comes up to the "shallows" to feed at night. The crew then explores an atmospheric sunken ship populated by Sand Tigers, who are more plentiful and aggressive at night, much like the Lemons who swarm the crew by night in the last segment.

My one significant complaint about Shark Week in general is that they don't air shark programming 24 hours a day. Saturday is the day where they do sharks all day long, but the rest of the week it's only during certain hours (premieres air at 9pm). I know they have other shows to air and they probably want to pull in customers not interested in Shark Week and whatnot, but it just kind of seems like, while it's Shark Week, you should be able to switch on the TV any time of day and see sharks on your screen. Am I right? Also, repeats of certain episodes throughout the week is obviously nice for those who might miss it here or there, but it'd be nice if they had more variety of episodes (interestingly, 24 hour shark programming would provide that opportunity). Anyhow, it's still Shark Week, and Shark Week is one of the greatest weeks in TV programming (perhaps second only to the scary movie blocks that air during October), that's kept me coming back year after year for over a decade. It's a tradition I intend to uphold for as long as I can. :D

1 comment:

  1. My biggest complaint about Shark Week is that the episodes from previous years seem to be... tossed in the dumpster as far as I can tell. Certain epsiodes will occasionally become available on DVD (generally sold as stand-alone documentaries without a connection to shark week, though a 20th anniversery Shark Week set was released which does contain one of the all time best eps, Prehistoric Sharks.) I don't see why they don't replay all these old episodes during Shark Week. In the digital age they could release all the episodes ever on DVDRs, produced for a few bucks a pop and sold to collectors for $30 a disc. If I could pick and choose eps I would totally go for a best of shark week DVD.

    Anyway looks like it was a good year and it sucks that I missed it.