Science is not always fun or exciting. In fact, I think if you were to ask, most scientists would say science is work. There’s a ton of paperwork to fill out, you’ve got to be meticulous in detail, there will be the inevitable soul-crushing failures along the way, data will be confusing, gear will break, you’ll have to fight for tenure at a University where the Dean is trying to figure out how to try to save the star running-back from having to do time for a vehicular homicide and doesn’t have time to deal with your proposal on peptide interaction with adipose metabolism, for God’s sake, NOT NOW, Johnson…
The point I’m trying to make here is that science is hard. Which is why whenever you watch a science special on TV, you should always curb your enthusiasm of “Wow! I could be a scientist!” with “OK, what permits did they need to get to do this? Do I like filling out forms?” It’s just many of the ways that TV lies to you. But that’s OK, because the world needs scientists. The world needs as many scientists as it can get, because the world is a fascinating place that must explored.
And with that, it’s the already the first night of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. You, the television viewer get all of the excitement of science, on Earth’s last frontier, with nature’s perfect killing machines, and it looks like Discovery is giving us a wide assortment of shows this year, and not all of them are about great white sharks! Don’t get me wrong, I love great white sharks, but there are between 450-500 known species of sharks out there right now, and we should turn the camera eye on as many of them as possible. The more you know about the diversity of life on the planet, how it interacts with everything, how different it is from place to place, the more likely you are to protect it. Also, sharks! Doing sharky things!
Night 1, Show 1: Tiger Beach — 4 of 5 shark fins.
Fascinating show. Starts off with Dr. Neil Hammerschlag of the University of Miami’s desire to find out what’s going on at an area off the Bahamas called “Tiger Beach”, where tiger sharks congregate in large, consistent numbers (Tiger Beach is to tiger sharks as Isla Guadalupe is to great whites). We get a lot of beauty shots of the tigers to start off with, and a bit of drama as gear check turns into a tense moment as Dr. Hammerschlag and Jim Abernathy, veteran shark diver and conservationist, are surrounded by a large grouping of very curious sharks. We get some fascinating ultrasound shots of a very pregnant female along the way, including a view of their heart (two-chambered as opposed to our four, and an in utero view of baby tigers, which have very sharp, teeny-tiny teeth). We get to watch them tag and release the fish, and watch as gear loss almost torpedoes an experiment. The very neat thing about this special is that it also features female scientists, which is a refreshing change of pace for these shows. Emily Rose Nelson shows that science, especially marine science, especially shark science isn’t and doesn’t have to be an old boy’s club.
Night 1, Show 2: The Return of the Monster Mako — 4 of 5 shark fins.
This show starts off with a little showmanship, featuring a crusty old fisherman walking down the docks, regaling us a tale of the “granders”, giant Mako sharks that only come out at night. I know this made some of the scientists watching a little trepidatious, as it could have taken a bad turn back to the days of Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives, but it was just a little flavor to an otherwise fascinating show about a species of shark that unless you’re a boater or a sports fisherman, you might not even know about, and hey, marine science often starts with the fish tale. Fishermen knew of the giant squid long before malacologists banished the Kraken to legend. This one jumped from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans, with the most compelling footage coming from the Atlantic coast of Rhode Island and night dives that push the envelope of what seems safe to the layperson. These people are the definition of “intrepid explorers”. The night diving footage is absolutely amazing. Initially I found the jumps between the Pacific and Atlantic coast expeditions distracting, but then I got over myself.
Night 1, Show 3: Isle of Jaws — 3 of 5 shark fins.
Same old, same old. Which, you know when the same old is great white sharks, then it’s still going to be enjoyable. Cinematographer Andy Casagrande returns to Australia to find out where the sharks of the Netptune Islands have gone – as in 2015 they apparently disappeared en masse. Andy tracks them down to a remote island chain off Western Australia. This show was a little frustrating because they drop a tantalizing fact – sharks appear to be drawn to certain types of music. This could be a show in and of itself. It *should* be a show. The idea is that you play music on underwater speakers, and do not chum or bait, and the sound alone will draw sharks in. The song they were playing in this too brief segment was Morphine’s “Sharks”. And a shark showed up. How cool is that? But we’re playing with the same tropes we’ve gotten quite a bit on these shows.
1. “I want to find out why great whites are doing this!”
2. Barely sussed out theory, importance not explained.
3. Tantalizing hint dropped.
4. Back to theory.
5. Now we’re just filming great whites.
At the end of the show, there’s some impressive footage, and they explain that discovering that the sharks have moved and that the data can be used to start a new marine preserve – that’s pretty cool. Start with that next time, don’t give us the “we’re trying to find where they mate/give birth/sing gaily tra-la-la”.
There’s some high drama in this one too about a diver who has an emergency while diving – apparently he couldn’t equalize pressure on the way down, which let me say as a diver, SUCKS when you can’t equalize.
Well, that’s night one of Shark Week. What did you think? Ready for more shark action? What would you like to see Discovery Channel cover?
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