As some of you might know, I grew up in South Florida, and I attended a high school that had a marine biology class. It was pretty cool, even if our teacher required us to keep a notebook to hand in at the end of the semester to prove we were taking notes (which I didn’t and spent a panicked weekend one semester desperately copying a friend’s note book, changing out pens every once in a while to complete my deception’s accuracy). One of the activities I loved? We went to a mangrove swamp and did a survey of life. One I didn’t? Dissecting a dogfish (a small shark commonly found in your fish and chips, unfortunately). I’m not squemish exactly, I just don’t like unnecessary death, and it was just one of those things I didn’t groove with causing. But I don’t really like gross things either. Like, South Park. I love certain episodes (“About Last Night…”, any of the Goth Kids episodes, “Cash for Gold”), but they descend into the jokes about f**cking corpses or talking Christmas s**t, yours truly grabs the remote. That’s why, tonight, there something that was absolutely repellent to start the night, and not from a shark conservation POV.
Dr. Pimple Popper Pops Shark Week (4/5)
CAN WE NOT DO THIS? The whole thing? It’s friggin’ gross. My girlfriend who occasionally watches the show and objects to my objection of this incredibly gross concept of watching a dermatologist drain pustulated filth out of the human body, says “But she’s helping people!” to which I say “Great! I’m glad! I don’t need to see it!”. Shark Week however, said “YES YOU DO” and so here we are. I don’t need the sound effects. I don’t need the occasional glimpses into Dr. Pimple Popper (*sigh* I know she has a real name, but it that’s what the show is calling her then that’s what she’ll be called, goddammit) practice, but it actually starts off with something you don’t normally see on Shark Week – a cleaning station (sort of – they focus mostly on remoras and not the true denizens of the cleaning stations like wrasses, juvenile angelfish, and cleaner shrimp among them). Cleaning stations are very cool. I discovered a new one off of Malapascua Island as part of my Thresher Shark Diver training program. We witness live, natural predation of yellowtail snapper (it’s neat to see that without having hooks or poles on the fish)! Learning about how shark skin is being applied to medical tech was very cool… but I wish they would stop playing up danger where no danger exists, and that plus the goddamn concept of having to see dermatlogical work done of humans – YOU LOSE A FIN, TV SHOW.
Sharkadelic Summer 2 (2.5/5)
Last Summer’s Snoop Dogg-hosted Sharkadelic Summer was a fun, and maybe even a little bit necessary, a vehicle to showcase viral clips of people out in the world with the Doggfather riffing over them while getting high – if you’re going to have a clip show, it was kind of the perfect COVID-lockdown glimpse into the world that was. It was inoffensive and good background noise for getting high or drunk while reviewing a show. This year, there were a lot more viral clips… of people harassing sharks OR causing their untimely death (in the case of a poor blacktip getting hooked and then getting it’s tail bit off by a pursuing bull shark). And here is where I rant: there is a lot of citizen science out there, much of it non-invasive and harmless (one of the cool things I did during the pandemic was help identify a new manta ray individual while diving in the Maldives). Some of it… is not. Fishermen, like BlacktipPh, create a dangerous situation for sharks by getting them hooked, and not giving them a way to escsape once they are hooked – hammerheads and bulls are notorious for killing and eating hooked blacktips, and hammerheads, once hooked, start dumping lactic acid into their blood when they try to get off the hook, so that “caught and released” hammerhead might actually die of a heart attack in the next 24 hours. I am not naive enough to believe we can stop fishing, both recreationally and commerically, but we need to be a lot more honest about the risks that fishing causes wildlife, even fishing of the “catch and release” variety. So with a 1 for the wildlife harrassment, and a 4 for the mako shark conservation message we got in the middle of the episode, we get a 2.5. It’s fair.
Mega Jaws of Bird Island ( 2.5 / 5 )
Look, if you’re going to a comment about a shark being the “Mother of Bird Island” – F**CKING CALL THE EPISODE THAT. Within 3 minutes of the episode they use this term FOUR TIMES. What, are they afraid people won’t tune in if they mention the word “Mother” in the title? Like there’s some bean counter in Discovery’s corporate HQ saying “GODAMMIT, IF USE THE WORD MOTHER IN THE TITLE WE’LL LOSE THE DEADBEAT DAD 18-45 YEAR OLD DEMO – WHO THE F**CK DO YOU THINK IS WATCHING SHARK DOCUMENTARIES AT 10PM ON A THURSDAY!?!?!”. This one’s fine. Consider your bingo card filled: South Africa, Great White, Ominous Music, Looking for a Specific Shark, Free Space. I don’t mean to be blase about Great Whites or the necessary research is going on to find out what can be done to help them survive the ravages of climate change, orca, and the Sino-Indian fishing fleets, but it’s just that we’ve seen this show before. I want more context. A not-inconsequential time is spent on the retreival of a single BRUV. And it’s Same scientists, the voice is the same… Surely South Africa has other shark researchers? Did you know the South African national anthem is sung in 5 different languages? Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. I have to believe there are more shark researchers in towns like St. Lucia, Durban, along Sodwana Bay. More voices will make shark conservation as harmonious as “Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika” – seriously, click the link. It’s possibly the best national anthem.
And now, the Discovery+ offerings…
Raging Bulls (3.5 / 5 )
Starting off with a “shark attacks are on the rise” or some other such bullshit is going to immediately lose you 2 fins that you have to recover, and that’s where we start here. However, as we’re focusing on one of my favorite sharks, the bull shark, it’s possible this should could recover. When the BRUV (Baited Underwater Remote Video station) is engaged by a inquisitive shark is your first on-site encounter – it’s pretty damn cool. If I’m being honest, except for the breathless beginning of the show where “sharks have killed people and they might be coming for you”, this is very much a shark show for me. It’s a Shark Week show for the heteronormative straight cis white male – which isn’t bad per se, there’s room enough on Shark Week for shows like this – it can and does inspire, but the problem is there’s other shows (and I would argue worse shows – like Jackass Shark Week and any of the Weasels Ripped My Flesh! [nee “I Was Prey]) shows that do this. We need to start sacrificing crap like those, keep this, but give those precious other hours to different demographics so that they too can feel about sharks that I do. There was legitmately thrilling moments on this show, including an ineraction between a hammerhead and bull shark that left me both amazed and sad. If not for the bullshit “sharks are going to kill you narration, this would have been a 5. Worth your eyeball time.
Shark Academy, Episode 6 (3 / 5)
One of the things I intend to do after I’m all stitched up and healed and paid up is a dive expedition out to Tiger Beach – an area east of my hometown that’s a fairly shallow dive but loaded with many sharks found between Florida’s Gold Coast and the Bahamas, including the one big predatory shark I haven’t had a chance to dive with, the Tiger shark. If I’m being honest, that’s what one of the big draws was when I applied to be part of Shark Academy back in 2020 – to dive Tiger Beach on someone else’s nickel (don’t hate the player, hate the game, Discovery). This isn’t real research, this is adventure diving – I’ve been to the Arena and Ray of Hope off of Nassau, I’ve gamed out a trip to Bimini Biologic for Hammerheads, and I’m planning my Tiger Beach trip (the work-up of a bull shark, OK – that’s real science, and yes, jealous). I’ve done photo IDs of bull sharks in Fiji and mantas in the Maldives. What I’m trying to say here is that YOU can do the stuff they did on Shark Academy – you don’t need to be a shark scientist or a reality show contestant. Hopefully, it inspires you to become one, but if there are reasons you can’t (and really, if you’ve got the passion, and can put in the work – you CAN), maybe it’ll inspire you to be citizen scientist, a conservationist, an ocean advocate or ambassador – most dive certification agencies offer ecology courses, and EdX offers courses of how you can be agent of sustainable change. Shark Academy is TV. Find your reality, and if you can’t find it, make it.
The episode was the best of the part here, because the most qualified people Ren, Randy, and I guess (?) Juliana made to the final test, and [spoiler space]….
Randy won – which I’m pretty happy about. He seemed to be a good guy and deserved to win. Ren got a hell of a second place, landing a job with the Agressor fleet as a Divemaster, and the rest of the Academy are still with us, some hopefully planning on doing good things for sharks. Go and do likewise.