Ocean animals don’t always draw national attention, but once every year, they become a media sensation. That time of the year is back. First aired on July 17, 1988, Shark Week returned to Discovery Channel this week to celebrate its 30-year anniversary.
The 10-show lineup launched with a bang on Sunday, starring the week’s host Shaquille O’Neal and UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey, among others. O’Neal made headlines, when a small shark entered the former NBA star’s protective cage, forcing him to get pulled out of the water.
Shark Week will have featured 26 shows in all, when the two-hour special of Naked and Afraid of Sharks run on Sunday, July 29.
But as visibility of white sharks have seemingly increased in recent years, one must wonder if sharks are as great a threat as Shark Week makes them out to be.
“Shark Week has gotten much better in terms of their science content around [sharks], but as is common to most media and TV, their promotions of it often still promotes the idea of sharks as being dangerous or a threat,” said Tony LaCasse, of the New England Aquarium. “We play on the fear aspect that most people have of large predators.”
People should still be careful around sharks, but the likelihood of a fatal shark attack is fairly uncommon, LaCasse said. In fact, the last fatal shark attack in Massachusetts happened in 1936; the last non-fatal shark attack was in 2014, when two kayakers safely escaped a great white shark that bit their boats.
His biggest tip on cautionary measures against sharks? “If you’re swimming in the outer cape, and you see a seal in the water, get out of the water,” LaCasse said. “That’s going to minimize the chance that you have an accident.”
LaCasse said New England has always been home to a small population of white sharks, but with seals under the protection of the U.S. federal law, population of seals, the preferred prey of white sharks, have increased drastically in areas including Chatham and Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
“Over time, all those white sharks [Massachusetts has] that were dispersed throughout New England are concentrating around the elbow of Cape Cod because that’s where their food is,” LaCasse said of the increased visibility of the white sharks.
“If you’re going to the outer cape, the thing that hurts most people are other people,” LaCasse said.
This won’t be the only time this summer will feature sharks on air, as The Meg will be released in theaters on August 10. The film is based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction novel, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.
The film features Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson and Ruby Rose. Despite the name’s similarity, The Meg is unrelated to the 2004 horror Megalodon or the Megashark franchise.