Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Influence of Discovery Channel

Here's the kind of thinking that comes from watching Discovery's Shark Week. Note: the author's attitude to sharks comes from Discovery Channel, and his resulting terror of sharks makes him strongly resist, and write about, how outrageous it is to try to save them from extinction.

Government to spend money on sharks?
by Justin Clarke

June 29, 3:00 PM


The house voted on a climate bill this weekend, so I thought I’d ramble o about conserving nature, and wasting money to do it as ineffectively as possible.

I went to ocean beach (OB) on Saturday, hoping to sneak in a quick surf before my bartending shift started. Let me tell you friend, the sea looked angry; I opted to stay dry. Anyone who surfs at OB will tell you that it can get plenty creepy out there on the darker days. The six-mile stretch of beach means that it’s easy to find an uninhabited peak or two, and even easier to wet yourself when you realize that you are the only person dumb enough to have paddled out into the blackness on that particular day. It’s just you and the local marine life – up here that means sharks.

Sharks scare the hell out of me. I’ve watched enough Discovery Channel to know that sharks are pure killing machines that never sleep and have eyesight poor enough to equate a human with a sealion. They discriminate between the two by ‘test-biting’ which sounds ridiculously like ‘nibbling,’ instead of the far more accurate ‘biting to death.’

Why am I writing about sharks? I recently read a report entitled ‘Sharks threatened with extinction,’ which bemoans the current plight of sharks and suggests that we take government action to mitigate the loss:

"The vulnerability and lengthy migrations of most open ocean sharks calls for co-ordinated, international conservation plans," she urged.

Excuse me? A conservation plan? Shouldn’t that read ‘extermination plan'? Let me be clear: I don’t know where these people are getting their numbers, but I think the desirable number of great white sharks is zero. Sharks are the ocean’s Nazis, indiscriminate murderers with black eyes and no souls. In a time of global recession, should we be worrying about sharks and setting money aside to make sure that sharks get a fair shake?

I read the rest of the article, which terrified me even more. Apparently shark fin soup is a delicacy in Asia:

To supply the market the wasteful process of "finning" often takes place, in which the fins are cut off the shark and the rest of the body is thrown back into the sea.

Oh, great. We’re just maiming the sharks and dumping them back in the ocean. Now I’m worried about super-pissed-off amputee sharks with no dorsal fin to signal an approach.

Don’t think we’re above the kind of useless spending that would protect Great White Sharks? Recently the government approved over 3 million dollars to create a tunnel under I-27 in Florida. The tunnel is for turtles, who apparently don’t like using the already-existing culvert to cross under the highway. I’m amazed the turtles are settling for a lousy 3 million dollar tunnel; if they held out I’m sure they could upgrade to some kind of miniaturized reptilian gondola system. Or, if you don’t care about sharks or turtles or nature, we could just set that pile of money on fire.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Why Boycott Shark Week?

Discovery Communications has twisted and warped the interviews of researchers on sharks since 1987 in order to present them as scary and dangerous, while pretending to be telling the scientific truth.

They themselves laughingly call it "shark porn."

Now we are in the Year of the Shark and once again Discovery will make millions of dollars by casting sharks as monsters in Shark Week 2009.

The new titles are:

BLOOD IN THE WATER (focuses on shark attacks)

DAY OF THE SHARK (focuses on shark attacks)

DEADLY WATERS (focuses on shark attacks)

GREAT WHITE APPETITE (focuses on the most frightening shark species)

SHARKBITE SUMMER (focuses on shark attacks)

As the large species of sharks approach extinction, Discovery's deliberate misrepresentation of them to encourage people to hate and fear them, is a crime against life.

All efforts to reason with those responsible have failed, (see below) so the members of The Shark Group felt obliged to go to the next level of protest.

We wrote the following Manifesto, calling for a global boycott against Shark Week programs, and posted it on the petition site.

To sign, just click on the link at right, "The Link to the Manifesto"

Thank you.

The Manifesto

We, the organizations, researchers, and divers who foresee the imminent extinction of the large shark species, demand a stop to Discovery Communication's dishonest use of sharks for profit.

Since 1987, Discovery Channel has annually presented 'Shark Week.' This week-long series of programs featuring sharks claims to present facts about sharks, and its popularity has earned the company billions of dollars.

Discovery Channel is owned by Discovery Communications, which claims to be “dedicated to upholding the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct.”

Discovery's scientific credibility and reputation has resulted in the wide-spread belief in the truth of the shows televised on Shark Week.

In reality, Discovery uses sharks for the horror-show effect that draws a wide audience. Shark Week dramatizes shark attacks, blood and the animals' unusual dentition, to frighten viewers. Since no true sea monsters have been discovered, Discovery has cast sharks in that role, following in the footsteps of the movie “Jaws.”

But “Jaws” was advertised as a fictional horror film, whereas Discovery presents its horror shows as scientific truth. A recent example consisted of stuffing a dummy's wet suit with fish pieces and letting the dummy snorkeller float at the surface. Not surprisingly, a tiger shark, who had been attracted to the area, tried to get to the food source by biting the 'snorkeller'. The viewers were not told that the dummy's wetsuit was filled with smelly fish parts, and Discovery presented the producer's fraudulent sequence as evidence that sharks are likely to attack any swimmer in the sea. This is just one of countless ways in which Discovery Communications has lied to its viewers to show sharks as dangerous.

The fact is that no shark species target humans for food and people all over the world swim and dive with sharks for pleasure—the same species that Discovery infers will attack and kill people.

Scientists who's work has been used for Discovery's Shark Week have found it twisted and misrepresented by the company. For those who are familiar with sharks, Shark Week is nothing more than tabloid journalism, and does not reflect modern scientific knowledge.

Until recently, even the dangers to sharks from overfishing was covered up by Discovery, because they considered conservation to be an unpopular subject.

So after Shark Week 2007, the authors, representing the Shark list (now The Shark Group), sent a letter to Discovery Channel, outlining the above concerns. It was signed by 352 people and resulted in a three and a half hour meeting with Discovery executives. The Shark Week phenomenon and lack of ethics in its portrayal of sharks was openly discussed, but Discovery's representatives saw no problem with it. While they did include some information on the need for shark conservation in 2008, they continue to present sharks as monster man-eaters, thus reinforcing the biggest obstacle to their protection.

Therefore, since:

~Discovery Communications uses endangered marine animals to provide horror shows for profit, facilitating their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest

~Discovery has so effectively convinced their millions of viewers that sharks deserve to be hated, that many people think that sharks should be hunted to extinction

~Discovery has created a wave of fear of the sea, in people who grew up watching Shark Week

~Discovery executives know exactly what they are doing, and call it 'shark pornography,' while they bring in millions of dollars

~Discovery excuses itself by claiming it is only giving the public what it wants, though the public's love of horror shows has nothing to do with their responsibility for having made sharks the subject of that horror

~Discovery is as responsible for the decline of sharks towards extinction as the market for shark fin soup

We call for an International boycott of all of Shark Week's programs until Discovery
Communications stops using sharks dishonestly for profit in horror shows, and starts presenting them as the important marine animals that they are, now in danger of extinction.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Discovery's View of Sharks

Here's an excellent example of how Discovery twists and warps science to promote the idea that sharks are dangerous killers. To seriously compare the hunting strategies of any predator with that of an obsessive and murderous primate is absurd.

From the perspective of an ethologist, for example, the observation that sharks know when they are visible and when they are hidden indicates self awareness. Discovery's interpretation couldn't be worse for sharks.

If you have not yet signed our Manifesto regarding the wrong that Discovery is doing to sharks, please do so now: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Boycott-Shark-Week

Great White Sharks Hunt Like Serial Killers
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

June 22, 2009 -- Sharks may only kill for food, but they share similar strategies with human serial killers: They lurk out of sight, stalking their victims.

Sharks and human serial killers can both be tracked using geographic profiling, according to a new study that applied this investigative technique to the hunting patterns of great white sharks, the world's largest known predatory fish.

(snipped) http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/06/22/shark-attacks.html

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rebuttal to Criticisms of Observations of Sharks

Since my posting resulted in much disagreement by those whose experience with sharks comes from watching television instead of sharks, this added explanation seemed necessary.

I am not implying that sharks do not use their mouths and teeth. Indeed they do, since their mouths are their one part adapted for the manipulation of the solid fraction of their environment.
They investigate objects by picking them up and feeling them with their mouths.

My point is that they don't raise their heads and bite automatically in moments of aggression as terrestrial vertebrates generally do. Even people in extremis will bite; instinct takes over when survival is threatened.

When my sharks got mad at me they didn't bite me--they slammed me.

The late Arthur Myrberg, who was an ethologist, listed many shark species he had watched in nature, and he told me he had never seen sharks fighting. I never saw them fighting either. Further, they maintain little or no inter-animal distance.

I have heard of white sharks biting others for allegedly territorial reasons, but the species has also been shown to have a ritualized conflict exchange, so they still seem to show less aggression than terrestrial predators.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Portraying Sharks as "Attackers" is Wrong

As one of the few people who has conducted a long term ethological study of sharks, and the only one who went alone to watch them under a wide variety of circumstances, I have long acquaintance with the phenomenon of fear. Often it took all my psychological force to compose my mind in order to overcome it, when things went wrong, and I found myself in tossing waters opaque with blood, and solid with excited sharks, in an unexpected situation for which I was unprepared.
For years, people told me, and I believed myself, that one day I would be bitten, and would bleed to death, or faint and drown, in consequence. Since I was alone, far from shore, often as night was falling, I could expect no one to save me.
These circumstances enhanced what appeared to be an instinctive tendency to react with darkening consciousness and soaring terror to certain visual cues. Yet, no matter what happened, no shark bit me, time after time.
Once I accidentally kicked one hard in the side--I didn't realize that the six foot animal was between my legs as I frantically tried to right myself in powerful current. I watched, appalled, expecting her to instantly turn and slash, but there was no change in either her speed nor trajectory as she curved around to lazily circle me. After many years, I could no longer dismiss their failure to bite as random coincidence. No other species with whom I had even a fraction of the intimacy I shared with sharks, had failed to bite me, either by accident or in a fit of pique. Why not all those sharks, hundreds of them, of four different species, some many times my size? It was something that exercised me often--for years my mind went over the question like an octopus over a crab in a jar, trying to understand.
Paddling my heavy kayak the long way home beneath the stars, after yet another terrifying incident, I would think it out again. Finally I developed the theory that our fear of sharks is based on the intrinsic knowledge that animals like us open their mouths instinctively to bite when they come in aggressive attack. Most other mammals, and most birds in my experience tend to do this, and certainly the great terrestrial predators, including primates, do. The mouth opens automatically, as part of the attack.
Us western humans, of course, are conditioned not to bite, but one can still become aware in extremities, that this instinct is present under the veneer of civilized conduct. So we assume--it just seems most natural--that sharks will behave that way too. But they don't. I believe that they do not share this instinct with us. And that is the key. With those mouths and shocking sets of teeth, our imaginations are undone considering them opening to bite us. I have formed the theory from watching them, that on the contrary, they have an inborn inhibition against biting companion animals. They don't regard us as prey, so they apparently view us as other animals in their ecological community.
Even the great white shark has been shown (by Professor Peter Klimley), to have a ritualized conflict when ownership of a seal prey comes into question. The shark who can splash water highest and farthest with its tail wins the seal, so a battle, which would gravely harm both sharks, given their dentition, is avoided. I have not yet found a researcher who has witnessed sharks fighting with each other, as we, and other mammals and birds often do. (Mating is not the same thing). So it wrongs them to suggest that they, like us, use their mouths in aggressive attacks.
Unfortunately, this instinctive fear has been used by the media to entertain us with horror shows, starring sharks as the only known monsters in the sea, and the resulting shark attack mania is one of the great obstacles to shark conservation.
Most of this information was conveyed to Paul Gasek et al at Discovery as part of our discourse over why their portrayal of sharks is wrong.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Letter to Discovery Founder and President

June 13, 2009

Subject: International Boycott of Shark Week Programs

Mr. John Hendricks, Founder and Chairman,
Mr. David Zaslav, President & CEO,

Dear Sirs,

We, representing The Shark Group, wrote to you in July, 2007, with regards to the inauthentic material shown on Shark Week, portraying sharks as dangerous man-eaters. When your representatives contacted us, after what seemed to be a candid discussion of the problems involved, four of our people spent much time and money to travel to Silversprings, Maryland, to meet with them in your offices.

While at the time it seemed that our points were understood, we have waited to see some results, and found that we were simply ignored. The new programs advertised for Shark Week 2009, make it very clear that you are continuing to use endangered marine animals to provide horror shows for profit, facilitating their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest.

Indeed, Discovery Channel has so effectively convinced their millions of viewers that sharks deserve to be hated, that many people think that sharks should be hunted to extinction.

We have therefore moved to the next step, and launched an International boycott of all of Shark Week's programs until Discovery Communications stops using sharks dishonestly for profit in horror shows, and starts presenting them as the important marine animals that they are, now in danger of extinction.

Yours truly,
Ila France Porcher
Alex Buttigieg
for The Shark Group

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Our Original Letter about Shark Week

(pictured above: Our representatives to the meeting with Discovery Communications. Left to right: David Ulloa, Paul Gasek, Steve Fox, Julie Anderson, Maris Kazmers)


The International Shark Discussion List, SHARK -L


July 18th, 2007

To the Discovery Network:

Mr. John Hendricks, Founder & Chairman, and

Mr. David Zaslav, President & CEO

Members of our Internet shark discussion forum, SHARK-L, have been asked by your marketing representatives to help promote your famous Shark Week sequence. This letter, signed by list members and friends, is our formal response to the request from your grass roots agency, New Media Strategies, for our support of the programming.

How can we support Discovery Channel when we are fighting for shark conservation, and its biggest obstacle is the monster image given to sharks by the media, including Shark Week programs? Further, some of us who have been directly involved in the production of your documentaries feel disgusted at the way that our interviews were censored and our words twisted around.

Our group is comprised of scientists, researchers, educators, media companies, and many NGO's, lobbyists and others. In aggregate we represent a strong network of influence that can help or hurt the efforts of any shark related programming or initiatives. In an age where media fragmentation is plaguing marketers and entertainment companies, we represent an outlet of opportunity for you.

We try to remain current regarding scientific findings on sharks, and we watch as many of Shark Week's documentaries as possible. However, as the years passed, we have become appalled by the failure of these documentaries to reflect modern scientific knowledge of sharks. We understand the need to drive "tune-in" and ratings to satisfy your obligations to your advertisers. However, it is our impression that the Discovery Channel's Shark Week is stooping to the level of tabloid journalism by casting sharks as the sea monsters that science was never able to find.

It's no secret that people love monsters, blood, teeth and frights. On Shark Week, that seems to be what you are offering them, even though this subject matter fails to reflect current scientific understanding of these unusual and important fish. For example, though there are about 500 known shark species, inhabiting a wide range of ecolological niches, your shows focus on the biggest top predators, especially the great white shark.

In recent years, conservation groups as well as individuals and scientists have become concerned to the point of alarm at the speed with which sharks have been depleted, mostly for the growing market for shark fin soup. It is estimated that roughly seventy-three million sharks a year are slaughtered, (though some estimates are as high as two hundred million), a plunder that has stripped the oceans of roughly ninety percent of the accessible species. Casting sharks in a negative light leads to increased devastation of the species that you feature, even if that is not your intention.

Apart from the waste and brutality involved in shark finning, the threat of extinction is such an important part of the reality sharks face, that we ask why you have not used your power to publicize it. It is your responsibility as a credible media company to portray the perilous situation sharks face, thus bolstering consumer awareness and action.

On the contrary, we know from personal experience that you take the trouble to clip information about the finning crisis from your sequences about sharks, deliberately concealing the facts of this oceanic catastrophe from your viewers, who innocently believe that you are presenting them with science.

Thus not only are sharks misrepresented as monsters when they are not, but the truth of the ecological crisis that has befallen them is left out. In using shark attack mania for profit, you are reinforcing the main obstacle to shark conservation. In projecting an air of scientific knowledge when you are presenting only tabloid journalism, you are wronging the animals you portray.

Your own words clearly express how you promote and prolong their "Mindless Man-eater" image, and contribute to an attitude that allows their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest:

"Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever"

"Deadly Stripes: Tiger Sharks"

"Top 5 Eaten Alive"

"Shark Feeding Frenzy"

We take issue with Ocean Conservancy as well, for allowing themselves to be associated with such a travesty.

In the 1970s, Peter Benchley’s fictional best-seller, JAWS (which Steven Spielberg made into a blockbuster movie), dramatically increased our immemorial fear of sharks. By the 1980s, that fear had largely given way to curiosity, resulting in an unprecedented amount research on them. Thus, in the 1990s, as sharks became target species for Asian markets, scientific data were available to combat the new threat to sharks.

We are no longer in the 1970s, and the archaic perception of sharks you present belongs on the History Channel, not the Discovery Channel. Peter Benchley became a spokesman for sharks and an ardent shark conservationist. We suggest Discovery Channel follow his example and move Shark Week into the 21st Century.

We welcome and encourage an open dialogue with Discovery Networks in regard to the programming for next year's Shark Week. Let's work together to balance your ability to drive "tune-in," with your responsibility to create awareness of the global marine disaster created by the intense overfishing of sharks.

We can fully support your efforts, resulting in many niche media publications and websites, reaching millions of consumers, to influence people to tune in and watch. Some list members are involved in the media and marketing communities and are willing to work together with you to ensure the alignment of the goals of Discovery Networks, and the sustainability of these important apex predators.

We look forward to your response.

Very truly yours


Alex 'Sharkman' Buttigieg

Sharkman's World Organization



Ila France Porcher

shark /cognitive ethologist

French Polynesia


Ron & Valerie Taylor,



Wolfgang Leander

Oceanic Dreams



Marie Levine

Executive Director,

Shark Research Institute

United States


Jason Heller

Horizon Interactive

Founder & CEO

United States


John K. Luedeman

Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences and Education

Clemson University

United States


Glenn Ashton


Ekogaia Foundation

South Africa


Geert Droppers

Protect the Sharks Foundation

The Netherlands


Sean R. Van Sommeran

Executive Director/CEO

The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation

United States

It was signed by 342 more people most of whom work with, dive with, or know sharks well, and resulted in a three and a half hour meeting with Discovery executives in which the following facts emerged:


Shark Week is aimed at young men, the small segment of the population who generally looks for thrills in their television viewing.

The programmers are uninterested in the true behaviour of sharks, and focus instead on how to make them look “scary and dangerous” which is what their viewers want

They refuse to acknowledge that their shows are largely responsible for viewers thinking sharks are scary and dangerous

Demonizing sharks has brought Discovery billions of dollars.

Shark Week executives refer to what they are doing as “shark porn” and are pleased with their work

They said they would add some information about sharks being endangered by overfishing, and try to show more real science, especially if we provided good stories on sharks for them.

They admitted that cars, coconuts and bees kill more people than sharks, but though their audience believes that Discovery is presenting scientific truth in their productions, their falsifications and wronging of sharks does not trouble them.

We did provide them some interesting stories on sharks, but they ignored them, and continued to portray sharks as monsters.