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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mid-Shark-Week-Madness


Oh, to be one of those little fish on the left. The tales that they could tell...

Another summer, another Shark Week. For 21 years, The Discovery Channel has treated its most disturbed viewers to a week long all-you-can-watch buffet of shark documentaries touching on every aspect of the creature from their apparent affinity for chum and tuna steaks on ropes, inability to discern seal from human, knack for almost always showing up when the cameras are on (see chum and tuna bit above) and how dolphins seem to relish a good shark ass kicking every one in awhile particularly when there are injured humans around to impress. Seems people really like watching programming about animals that can kill them. I guess it's fun to speculate as to your fight or flight response from the comfort of the couch.

At 11 years old, I found myself in the state of Pennsylvania and with something that we never really had before - basic cable. The Discovery Channel's second Shark Week was my first and I can remember feeling simultaneously terrified and fascinated as I watched alone in the dark of our exceptionally chilly townhouse basement. It wasn't long after that when sharks became a hidden obsession. I could not only identify quite a few of the over 350 members of the super order Selachii, but I knew all the stars in the shark documentary world - Ron & Valerie Taylor, Mark Marks, George Burgess, you know all those other really famous oceanographers and marine biologists. Rodney Fox is my absolute favorite. Inventor of the shark cage, survivor of a near fatal attack in 1963, Rodney is Australia's (and most of the world's) number one shark guy. I would often imagine myself saving up, hopping a series cheap flights to Australia and heading out to do a little White Pointer cage diving with Mr. Fox. White Pointer is Great White shark in Australian. Of course, upon spending time with Rodney and some of the other famous scientist hanging about, he would be quite impressed by my shark knowledge, natural sailing ability and general zeal for danger after which he would insist that I man his crew full time hence sealing my fate as an international shark expert super star. Oh, you know, just normal pre-teen fantasies.


How I was sure I'd spend my 18th birthday.

But, like everything else that I once thought was cool, mainstream media got a hold of sharks too. What I once shared with a few thousand strangers, also presumably watching Shark Week in their overly air conditioned basements or the equivalent is now completely known in that way that makes it just not at all cool anymore. What makes it worse (and this is by my own doing) is the result of personally tracking worldwide shark attacks and cross-checking my survey of the news stories with the International Shark Attack File. I was actually pointing out errors in a program on Monday night about shark attack survivors - out loud. "No, that's not exactly what happened. According to the victim, his friend told him to get back on his surfboard, then pulled him close to his board and lead them into show. He didn't get in the water to help - he was scared shitless and had already started to go back to the beach thinking his friend was dead." My sister seemed mildly interested in my color commentary, but I was like, I've seen both these dudes on the news and have read their personal accounts after the attack last year. How can you get the facts wrong in a shark attack show? Why would you have to make anything up? It's a shark attack for cricket's sake. It's an amazing phenomenon by default. You're more likely to be struck by lightening than attacked by a shark. Lighting.

My Google news alert brought me this incredible story about none other than Ryan Seacrest and his recent "attack". This week, of all weeks, is not the right time to reveal that your big toe basically suffered nothing more than a splinter when you were in knee deep water while vacationing. Sure, that splinter was an itty-bitty shark tooth, but, "Come on!" When I was 9 years old, I stepped on some glass or a very sharp fish of some kind while bathing off the oil tainted shore of Galevston, Texas and relayed my attack story for years to come. But, I was 9, Ryan, and HUGE liar. I've moved on.

I ended up watching only 20 minutes of the shark attack survivor show as it was clear none of the stories were going to be a surprise. The thing is, if you've watched Shark Week over the years, you're familiar with the standard program. It never really changes though new docs are made. You can always count on seeing plenty of re-enactments compete with fake blood, survivor tales, seals being catapulted out of the water before becoming lunch, cage dives, man-eaters, the peaceful plankton eating sharks, advice on actions to take if attacked and the ultimate - the night dive. Perhaps I will change my Google news alert from "shark attack" to "nice things that have happened in the world" just to mix it up a little.