Fact-Checking Shark Week And Sharknado

Photo courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

“Live every week like it’s shark week,” 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan has advised, along with other questionable words of wisdom like “nothing is impossible except for dinosaurs.”

Educational television can at times can be just as dubious in its programming as comedic characters are misguided in their knowledge of prehistoric predators. Shark Week, the Discovery Channel’s popular event devoted to the many-toothed sea creatures, is just one relevant example.

In past years, Shark Week has become more fantastical than ever. Though producers say they’ll turn over a new leaf (or teeth) in 2015, we’re here to clear some things up about the post populat shark-related programming of the past.

So without further ado, here’s some fact-checking of Shark Week’s past programs (and SciFi’s Sharknado, just for fun) from the obviously fabricated to the supposedly factual.

Shark of Darkness: Dramatized documentary about a massive and intelligent shark called “Submarine” that hunts humans, similar to 2013’s Megalodon documentary (which also is airing the Extended Cut and New Evidence in 2014).

  • Sharks do not hunt humans– in fact, it’s humans that hunt sharks. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sharks rarely attack, but when they do it’s from curiosity or confusion.
  • The events have been proven fictional and the scientists are actors. Even the legend of “Submarine” was created by journalists.
  • As for Megalodon, the prehistoric giant did live once, but the possibility of its existence today is as laughable to scientists as mermaids — hence the show’s hiring of fake professionals.

Voodoo Shark: Documentary about a mythical shark called “Rooken” in Louisiana Bayous.

  • Jonathan Davis, a researcher featured heavily in the program, has spoken out against the filmmakers for editing his interviews to seem as if he believed in the shark. Using his answers about Bull Sharks and applying them to the nonexistent “voodoo shark,” they fabricated their interview, he told io9.
  • There is no information available that proves the voodoo shark was a known legend before the creation of the film.

Monster Hammerhead: Documentary about the hunt for a legendary and lethal hammerhead shark that has allegedly been patrolling Florida waters for 60 years.

  • Hammerhead sharks have a lifespan of only 25-35 years, and are described as “shy,” feasting mostly at night at the ocean floor. The scalloped hammerhead is also endangered, so hunting them is illegal.
  • The legend of the monster hammerhead (called Old Hitler) is a fisherman’s tale with no root in fact, though it is an actual myth that some believe.

Zombie Sharks and Alien Sharks: Despite their misleading titles (the TV equivalent to clickbait), these specific programs appear to be, for the most part, scientific and factual:

  • Alien Sharks explores nonmythical yet otherworldly deep sea sharks: the Megamouth, Goblin Shark, Sleeper Shark, and Wobbegong are all real, and awesome.
  • Zombie Sharks follows a scientist exploring the catatonic and zombie-like state called “tonic immobility” in sharks. In fact, sharks do enter a state of paralysis when inverted, allowing whales to feast on them.

As for Sharkageddon, Air Jaws, Great White Matrix, Spawn of Jaws, and Lair of Mega shark — we don’t quite have the time to dive into them all — but as with other Discovery programs, it would be wise to take their information with a grain of salt.

Lastly, for fun, we’ll fact check one SciFi shark tale:

Sharknado: Fictional movie in which tornados pick up sharks in the ocean and wreak havoc upon Los Angeles.

  • Starring actress Tara Reid has said “You know, it actually can happen… I mean, the chances of it happening are very rare, but it can happen, actually. Which is crazy. Not that it — the chances of it are, like, you know, it’s like probably ‘pigs could fly.’ Like, I don’t think pigs could fly, but actually sharks could be stuck in tornados. There could be a sharknado.”
  • Science disagrees. According to Purdue University professor Andy Freed, sharks are too heavy to be picked up by winds, though small fish like minnows could be.

Unfortunately, Minnownado doesn’t sound like nearly as much fun.

Originally published on August 15, 2015. 

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Jennifer Markert