Everyone seemed to enjoy the obviously fictional “Sharknado” — now a viral meme — that aired on cable TV a few weeks ago, but shark enthusiasts eagerly anticipating the Discovery Channel’s official Shark Week are “furious” over a documentary on the cable channel that they’re saying was completely faked.
Discovery is defending it — to an extent.
The fakeumentary, which kicked off Shark Week Sunday night, was about the extinct giant shark megalodon (specially one nicknamed “Submarine”) and a team of “researchers” who thought it might still be lurking in the waters, wreaking havoc on marine life and even some humans.
“Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” a two-hour special that has been re-played since its original airing, has caused a bit of a stir among die-hard Shark Week fans who want to focus on the facts.
Christie Wilcox, who is a PhD student at the University of Hawaii and author of the Science Sushi, a Discover Magazine blog, wrote a letter to the Discovery Communications team lambasting the channel for fabricating stories and having actors pose as scientists in a convincing enough manner that “70 [percent] of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct,” according to the channel’s poll.
“No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist,” Wilcox wrote.
Discovery’s Executive Producer of Shark Week, Michael Sorensen, said in a statement emailed to TheBlaze that “with a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon.”
“It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?” the statement from Sorensen continued.
The show also did run with these disclaimers:
None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way nor have approved its contents.
Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day.
Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they may be.
Here’s the trailer for it:
Still, fans have taken to Discovery’s Facebook page, Twitter and blogs to voice their discontent over the elements in the show they feel is spreading misinformation.
In her blog post, Wilcox went on to point out, as others have as well, that Megalodon, although extinct, is still fascinating in and of itself to merit a factual special:
Here’s what I don’t get, Discovery: Megalodons were real, incredible, fascinating sharks. There’s a ton of actual science about them that is well worth a two hour special. We’ve discovered their nursery grounds off the coast of Panama, for example. Their bite is thought to be the strongest of all time—strong enough to smash an automobile—beating out even the most monstrous dinosaurs. The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality.
Taking it a step further, Wilcox rubs salt in the wound saying that at least Animal Planet had the decency in its mockumentary about mermaids to say in its disclaimer about the show that the claims were in actuality false. We should point out that Animal Planet, like the Discovery Channel, is also run through Discovery Communications LLC.
Then Wilcox hits it home (emphasis added):
Part of me is furious with you, Discovery, for doing this. But mostly, I’m just deeply saddened. It’s inexplicably depressing that you’ve gone from “the world’s #1 nonfiction media company” to peddling lies and faking stories for ratings. You’ve compromised your integrity so completely with this special, and that breaks my heart. I loved you, Discovery, ever since I was a child. I grew up watching you. It was partly because of you that I became transfixed by the natural world and pursued a career in science. I once dreamed of having my own Discovery Channel special, following in the footsteps of people like Jeff Corwin. Not anymore. This is inexcusable. You have an obligation to your viewers to hold to your non-fiction claims. You used to expose the beautiful, magical, wonderful sides of the world around us. Now, you just make shit up for profit. It’s depressing. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong.
Then Wilcox said she plans on boycotting Shark Week — and others have followed suit as well.
Actor Wil Wheaton, who has recently been featured in the TV show the Big Bang Theory as the Evil Wil Wheaton, called upon Discovery to apologize to its audience on its live aftershow.
“Someone from the network should use this platform and opportunity to address the audience, apologize for deliberately misleading them, and recommit to providing the highest quality content this week, and every other week out of the year,” Wheaton wrote.
Discovery did tell TheBlaze that people in the documentary were “both scientists and actors” and that experiments, like one where they poured a bunch of chum into the ocean to attract sharks — one of which they hoped would be megalodon — did take place.
If you’re now itching to learn a little bit of factual information about megalodon, some of which was presented by the Discovery Channel alongside what many are calling out as fake information, the Florida Museum of Natural History presents some quick facts:
- Megalodon vanished 2 million years ago, but when cruising the oceans, it was king.
- Megalodon had 46 front row teeth, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower. Most sharks have at least six rows of teeth, so a Megalodon had about 276 teeth at any given time.
- Megalodon was about 60 feet long with a body mass of about 77 tons.
- Some scientists estimate that Megalodon ate about 2,500 pounds of food every day, including whales and other large fish.
- Megalodon lived throughout most of the ancient world’s oceans, [with some scientists saying] from 17 to 2 million years ago.
- Ancient people collected Megalodon teeth and traditional legends feature giant sharks.
- Megalodon may be extinct but it’s still with us…starring in books and movies, on stamps and jewelry, and even in cartoons and video games.
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History also has an exhibit on the shark running through September 1.