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International Shark Discussion Forum Takes Stance Against Discovery's Shark Week 'Monster' Marketing

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NEW YORK, New York -- Members of the International SHARK - L Discussion List have recently got together to write the following letter to Discovery Network regarding Shark Week programming.

Here's the text of the letter:

From: 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

1 Alex 'Sharkman' Buttigieg Sharkman's World Organization Malta

2 Ila France Porcher shark /cognitive ethologist French Polynesia

3 Ron & Valerie Taylor, Australia.

4 Wolfgang Leander Oceanic Dreams Bolivia

5 Marie Levine Executive Director, Shark Research Institute United States

6 Jason Heller Founder & CEO United States

7 John K. Luedeman Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences and Education Clemson University United States

8 Glenn Ashton Director Ekogaia Foundation South Africa

9 Geert Droppers Protect the Sharks Foundation The Netherlands

10 Sean R. Van Sommeran Executive Director/CEO The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation United States

11 Michelle Clay President - Creative Home Educators United States

12 Chris Wise QA Engineer United States

13 Arthur Masloski United States

14 Gennadyi Gurman Queens Botanical Garden United States

15 Sophie Peake United States

16 Dean Crawford Associate Professor of English Vassar College Author of forthcoming Shark, Reaktion Books England

17 Robin Culler Physical Therapy Rehab Tech United States

18 Steve Fox Deep Blue Resort owner-Utila Whale Shark Research Honduras

19 Jason J. Honcoop United States

20 Cheryl Black Edison College United States

21 Rudy Socha CEO, WildlifeGifts United States

22 Marilyn Kazmers SharkSong Photography Michigan, USA

23 Maris Kazmers SharkSong Photography Michigan, USA

24 Patrick Robert Makenen, United States

25 Roxana Laura Garcia Liotta, Shark Conservation Program Director, Argentina

26 Uwe Duerr Germany

27 Gregory Burris United States of America

28 Dr. Gilles Cuny The Natural History Museum of Denmark Denmark

29 Josef Baron Kerckerinck zur Borg United States and Germany

30 Charlott Stenberg Marine biologist Sweden

31 Christine Gstoettner Vice President, Sharkproject Germany

32 Jason (Jay) Treberg, Ph.D. Memorial University of Newfoundland Canada

33 Jean-François Avenier (France) Shark Information Office owner Writer & Photographer, South Africa

34 Maia Campbell University of Minnesota United States

35 Barbara Wueringer The University of Queensland Australia

36 Jeff Kell University of Tennessee United States

37 Fernando Martins PADI Brasilian Distribution Office Brasil

38 Naftali BLAU Israel

39 Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch The Shark Trust United Kingdom

Signatures continued...

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

18 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Forget your beloved sharks! I for instance don't want them near me if I happen to be in the middle of the pacific! Or on the beaches. Sharks are so stupid that they mistaken humans for seals!!! Now I can't call them smart at all! The Less sharks we have in the oceans the better it is for humans! We are the dominating species - so let it be!!! There are other fish out there that can eat rotting carcases of whales and eat other death related meats. Cleaners of the ocean - blah blah! What would happen if there are no sharks in the ocean? Nothing BIG I bet! and more safety for regular people who like to swim !!!! ITS A FISH! and noone eats it, well except their tasteless fins! - which are still TASTELESS! - Who needs such species, when you can't even use it for food! - Yak! They all going to die off soon anyway - GLOBAL WARMING !! YEEEY!!!!!
   comment# 1   - Alex · S.F. · Jul 19, 2007 @ 5:26pm

All I can say is that it is about time. I have been disgusted by this fear programing for years now, and stopped watching. Even though my viewing habits have changed, I still talk to people who watch and they think all is well in the marine animal kingdom. They know nothing of the horrific deaths that sharks suffer when they are finned, thrown back in the water to suffer a slow death by blood loss and starvation. I have had incredible experiences diving with sharks. images that I have shown people of these encounters have people walk away amazed at the beauty and grace the sharks exhibit. We don't need any more misinformation going out to the general public. Our oceans aren't dying, we are killing them. My dive hood is off to everyone involved in this letter! Thank you for taking a stand.
   comment# 2   - Kurt Lieber · Huntington Beach, Ca USA · Jul 19, 2007 @ 5:52pm

this is exactly what shark week does to people. makes them think sharks are useless which they arn't, and maneaters which is usually just a mistaken identity. and alex, if you like to swim so much find a pool. its there home. they were there first.
   comment# 3   - Richie · u.s · Jul 19, 2007 @ 7:02pm

Discovery Channel has had some excellent programs on sharks, including some of the best science, research and conservation themed documentaries; some of the best films ever produced/broadcast. Having said that, I must admit that much of the programing has had a 'shark attack' thematic and are arguably exploitative and somewhat misleading in terms of depicting sharks as dangerous creatures when in fact there are over 400 species of sharks and only several are even potentially dangerous. The average 'shark' is neither menacing nor glamorous and certainly villainous. In fact, what needs to be made clear is that sharks (&many marine species) are in peril due to human impacts from overfishing and habitat disruption. Discovery Channel is a great network and Sharkweek has many outstanding programs, what isnt represented is that the public is pretty much bored with the redundant shark attack shows and that science and conservation themed programs are what the people really want. I hope Discovery Channels Sharkweek continues to make the transition from puerile 'shark attack' themes and follow the examples made by the documentaries like AirJaws and Jaws of the Pacific which were science and field research centric with little or no attention given to the occasional shark vs human theme which is totally unoriginal/boring. Shark Research and Conservation is far more interesting. Sean R. Van Sommeran Executive Director/CEO The Pelagic Shark Research
   comment# 4   - Sean R. Van Sommeran · Santa Cruz California · Jul 19, 2007 @ 7:57pm

Richie, I think you misunderstood Alex' comment, which was clearly meant ironical - the "opinion" of the stereotypical backcountry yokel with no education at all, and the ecological overview or interest of a horse fly. The opinion he gives can't really be his (no human being can be _that_ stupid), given the fact that he can read and write. Good one, Alex! ;-)
   comment# 5   - George · Germany · Jul 20, 2007 @ 4:53am

The comments of Alex,S.F. do not really deserve an answer. But that is what Discovery Channel and the main stream media have done during the past years: to brain-wash people into believing that sharks are useless killers, who need to be eliminated. I hope that this letter will convince people of the contrary, or at least start an intelligent discussion, through which the public can be educated about the true nature and the importance of sharks in our oceans. Jupp Kerckerinck
   comment# 6   - Jupp Kerckerinck · Millbrook, NY · Jul 20, 2007 @ 6:44am

Read and Write? Barely, that note of Alex's is full of typos and grammatical errors. He is more likely poorly educated, not very intelligent, and is hoping to stir up a reaction.
   comment# 7   - Iain · Bristol - UK · Jul 20, 2007 @ 9:40am

Thumbs up to the Discovery Channel, they have great documentaries on a variety of species.This Forum is another example of people who have a chance to join moderate conservatives to help educate all people on this issue and others but don't due to their own agenda. Sure Shark Week advertises scary themes and ominous music but it's all to get viewers. Their programs are really balanced and informative views from all aspects and different opinions on sharks. My 17 year old daughter and I have watched Shark week together for at least two years now and look forward to watching again this year.
   comment# 8   - Robert Rolin · Onalaska , Texas · Jul 20, 2007 @ 3:39pm

Sean is right. I'm a divemaster and have been diving California waters a very long time. What needs to be known is the behaviors of sharks and their interactions with other species, not just a rare encounter with a human. People like Sean have brought behaviors of these awesome creatures to the fore front of the media. In fact if we focused on the behaviors, physiology, and natural habbits of sharks we can educate ourselves so that encounters are less and we won't even have anymore shark attack shows. It is amazing that even with all the information available to people of how to avoid shark attacks, they don't pay any attention to it and end up having accidents.
   comment# 9   - divetatoo · Roseville, Ca. USA · Jul 22, 2007 @ 10:03am

Shark attacks do happen. Should they become extinct? Obviously not, but it is a disservice to the men of the USS Indianapolis to say a treatment of their horrible experience is just "monster marketing." Shark Week always has two or three conservation programs, and I appreciate their efforts.
   comment# 10   - Scott · Southern California, USA · Jul 22, 2007 @ 12:55pm

While I support the efforts of the "forum" to promote shark conservation, I would caution the media and any readers to consider what we are really talking about. The Internet Forum is basically just a bunch of conservationists who got together and gave themselves a name, and wrote a letter to Discovery Channel with an admonishing tone. Again, I agree in general with the idea of shark conservation, but the conservation crowd, in my view, is hurting their own cause with some of their tactics. I support the Discovery Channel in much of their shark-related programming, and I don't see any fault whatsoever with having a show specifically about shark attacks, and about the potential dangers of certain species of shark. Yes, humans kill many more sharks than sharks kill people, but the fact is that some species of shark are large, potentially deadly predators, that on occasion target and kill and consume human prey. There are plenty of conservation shows, groups, articles and websites, all of which I support, but in my mind, it is permissible to have a show about the other side of sharks - the dark side, if you will. The Discovery Channel is not calling for a shark culling, they are merely fulfilling their programing requirements, while giving the audience some thrills and entertainment, and even some education. Sincerely, Kevin Harris Shark Conspiracies
   comment# 11   - Kevin Harris, Founder, Shark Conspiracies · Agoura Hills, CA USA · Jul 22, 2007 @ 8:26pm

Alex, it's because of people like you that we are so screwed over right now. See how you enjoy getting your limbs hacked off with a big dull blade. Then we'll throw you overboard and see how you like swimming without propulsion!
   comment# 12   - The Advocate · USA · Jul 22, 2007 @ 9:57pm

Recent attack quote:Sun, Jul. 22, 2007 "HONOLULU" "I just remember saying, 'Oh, God, not like this, no way,'" Miller said Friday. "The shark came after the 36-year-old attorney from Toledo, Ohio, in clear blue waters in an area not known for shark attacks." What I think: Yes my feeling is that sharks certainly can be monsters! They are ugly,and they do eat and attack humans! They are not going extinct!!!!!!!! There are mor sharks than humans on this planet! These nuts trying to preserve sharks are out for money and power. I want them to swim a relay race across the Atalntic from Brazil to Africa. Let the survivors preach, and the others nourish their ever loving sharks.
   comment# 13   - Monte Petersen · Greenwich, CT · Jul 23, 2007 @ 6:21am

WATCH SHARK WEEK! Then posts your opinions. Last year Mike Rowe from dirty jobs hosted it. He swam with sharks, he fished for sharks and he even tried experimental shark repellents out among other things. In my opinion it's entertaining and informative and not at all bias against sharks.
   comment# 14   - Robert Rolin · Onalaska , Texas · Jul 23, 2007 @ 9:56pm

Richie, we humans will eat the food (of His land and sea) that God has provided for us, the entire earth is our hunting ground. Eat up! Alex is right.
   comment# 15   - Prowling · US · Jul 29, 2007 @ 4:48pm

By the Way, thanks Kevin Harris for your well balanced views. To many times we here from one side or another on this issue. THANKS AGAIN
   comment# 16   - Robert Rolin · Onalaska , Texas · Jul 30, 2007 @ 6:51am

Alex, you disgust me. We need sharks in the oceans. It's the people who should stay out of the ocean OR learn the Do's and Don'ts of swimming in the ocean. So maybe open a book and learn something before you open your month.
   comment# 17   - Dawn · Illinois · Aug 24, 2007 @ 2:50pm

This is a project that was submitted to American Express members project last month. Out of 1190 projects it ended up 4th in the first round. I think it will be selected in the Top 25 and go on to round 2. As environmentalists, we attempt to do all we can to protect our oceans and its eco-system. We know that our mere existence depends on the oceans. Protecting sharks from illegal fishing and poaching is essential since as the apex predators, they keep the oceans stabilized. Protect Cocos Island's intent is to establish a virtual exhibit in Costa Rica about the Island showing its beauty and the threat it faces. There will also be a touring display to show the rest of the world. Check out the project at: Make comments. Show your support for the environment. Show your support for this awesome project! Round 2 starts on Tuesday, Sept 9th. If you believe in this project, vote for it starting then. It doesn't cost anything other than a little of your time.
   comment# 18   - uwhabtat · Olympia, USA · Sep 6, 2008 @ 5:42pm
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