Runnette noted that four of this year’s segments make references to shark finning, the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins so they can be used to make a delicacy, shark fin soup. A new DNA analysis by Stony Brook University and the Field Museum in Chicago, with support from the Pew Environment Group, revealed that shark fin soup served in 14 U.S. cities contains at-risk species, including scalloped hammerhead. Scientists say the shark fin trade — which accounts for 26 million to 73 million shark deaths per year — is one of the main reasons that as many as a third of all shark species face some threat of extinction, along with the accidental catch of sharks in long lines set to catch species such as tuna and swordfish.
“I was thinking, maybe that’s too much,” Runnette quipped.
Several conservation groups and shark researchers, which had somewhat tentative relations with Discovery in the past, are now collaborating closely with it. Block, who helped pioneer the practice of tagging sharks, turtles, tunas and other marine species, initially rejected the script Discovery sent her because it overemphasized white-shark strikes off the Farallon Islands.
But Block was pleased with the final result, which included a more than $1 million, two-year experiment funded by Discovery, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Census of Marine Life and Rolex that will use movable gliders and radio transmitters to track the movements of more than 100 sharks in what Block calls “the blue Serengeti in our back yard” off California’s coast.
“We know where the watering holes are, we know where the highways are and what we’re trying to do is connect people to where these places are,” Block said, adding that TV provides a critical megaphone for that work. “I’ve spent 25 years in conservation, mostly working on big fish, and I don’t feel like we’re winning the war completely.”
Block is not alone: Oceana and the Pew Environment Group have worked with Discovery for three years; Nature Conservancy science specialist Kydd Pollock and his fiancee spoke on camera about how a gray reef shark became entangled in a net they set in the remote Palmyra Atoll two years ago and bit Pollock repeatedly on the head; and Shark Savers joined this year as a conservation partner.
Underpinning this shift is a simple calculation: Tens of millions of Americans get most of what they know about sharks from the annual event. At 29, Jason O’Bryhim — a George Mason University doctoral candidate in environment science and policy — has watched Shark Week for almost its entire run. (He’s the sort of kid who produced a shark pop-up book in first grade.)