The Fascination Behind Shark Week

By Caitlin Flynn on August 6, 2013

There are few events more exciting, more American than Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Although most of Shark Week’s programs are far away from U.S. coastlines, millions of Americans mark their calendars months in advance to catch the longest-running cable television programming event in history. In the midst of an era of great divide among the American people, Shark Week is a great unifier. Even those who are galeophobic, peek through the fingers covering their eyes to watch an eighteen hour a day, weeklong celebration of the oceans’ most vicious predators.

photo by StormyDog via Flickr

As a shark expert proclaimed on Shark After Dark, “When you get someone curious about something, the fear goes away”.

However, that statement might not be entirely correct. This year’s Shark Week opened in a big way – with an introduction of the mighty Megalodon. The Megalodon hides in the darkest depths of the ocean and surfaces to eat half a whale in a single bite. The Megalodon is estimated to be 60 feet long, a terror to the rest of the shark community and…completely mythical (in modern times).

Unbeknownst to some viewers, Shark Week’s premiere was shot in the style of the Blair Witch Project – as a thrilling although fake documentary. Despite the betrayal that inevitably accompanies becoming attached to a colossal man-eating creature just to find out it’s all a hoax, I think everyone will sleep a little better knowing a 60 foot long predator will probably not be invading their preferred body of water anytime soon.

What will we have nightmares about instead? Chum. The boat searching for Megalodon was equipped with very real Chum cannons. What is chum? Are you sure you want those nightmares? If you insist. Chum is basically shark bait. All you need for a good homemade batch of chum is fish (preferably mackerel and sardines), oil, cow blood and maybe some whale blubber for good measure. Grind it all up, freeze it, drill some holes in the bucket and drag the bucket behind your boat or disperse via high powered cannon. Voila! You’re in the middle of Jaws. You’ve always wanted to be in a movie right?

If you’re completely new to the pop culture phenomenon that is Shark Week, you have been missing out. According to Time Magazine, “Every year since 1995, the series has pulled in an audience of more than 20 million.” This year marks the 26th anniversary of Shark Week the premiere of which inundated the web with nearly a million shark related tweets.

Understandably so. There is undeniably something remarkably interesting about sharks but more so, the people who dedicate their careers to sharks. One man featured Sunday night was a shark photographer. Imagine the look on your Kindergarten teacher’s face when you come home from college and tell him or her that you actually became a shark photographer. Or that person who willingly climbs into a cage and lowered into shark-infested waters. Or the person who dedicates their life to the perfect mackerel/sardine ratio in chum.

Some of us appreciate Shark Week for it’s educational value, some of us have strange fascinations with chum, some like to celebrate with a drinking game (click here for official rules) and some like having an excuse to eat shark shaped gummies. Most of all, most of us simply like the power and mystery of sharks. I personally like all of the crazy people who love sharks enough to let me be fascinated from the safety of my couch for I believe that is the real American dream.

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