The campaign to transform Shark Week’s image — entailing events ranging from a closed meeting at a Stanford University biology lab overlooking the Pacific Ocean to an over-capacity screening and cocktail reception hosted by one of Washington’s most influential ocean-advocacy organizations — is a work in progress. But it is already a case study in how two very different D.C. interest groups have decided they are better off together than apart: environmentalists who see the rehabilitation of
as critical to their continued survival and a cable company that needs something beyond the next “Air Jaws” shot.
In an interview, Runnette, a former news producer who took over Shark Week in 2010, said part of her work is fueled by a straightforward motivation to drive audience with fresh material: “What can I still do that’s new, for God’s sakes, after 25 years?”
After all, Discovery already ran “The 10 Deadliest Sharks,” “Anatomy of a Shark Bite” and “Bull Shark: World’s Deadliest Shark,” more than a decade ago. So Runnette has sought to have viewers “see a shark differently,” whether that’s through advanced technology or an alternate story line.
In this year’s version of “Air Jaws,” for example (“Air Jaws Apocalypse,” in case you were wondering), filmmakers have constructed an underwater housing so they could take 1,000 frames of footage a second below the waves.
“You’re suddenly so conscious of an individual who is looking back at you; that is so much more powerful than you,” Runnette said. “When he looks at you and doesn’t bite you, that’s, in a way, more exciting.”
And for activists — who include a group of shark-bite survivors working with the Pew Environment Group — Shark Week provides an opportunity to reach the more than 30 million viewers who watch the event each year.
“This is the ultimate melding of shark attacks becoming shark conservation,” said Debbie Salamone, a Pew Environment Group communications officer whose Achilles tendon was severed while she was swimming off Florida’s Cape Canaveral National Seashore in 2004. “I think it’s really helping us.”
Or as Mike Coots — who lost his right leg to a shark while surfing off the Hawaiian island Kauai — put it when describing being interviewed about his 1997 attack: “Most of the time, you’re thinking, someone else is making a dime off of what I’m saying. With this, what I’m thinking is what I’m saying might inspire future stewards of the ocean.”