The annual Discovery Channel Shark Week begins this week and with it comes the usual array of assorted documentaries. There will be programmes that will include fact-finding, attempted myth-busting and probably a heavy dose of melodrama. It is always an interesting week of shows that will invariably have stories of near misses, tales of bravery and survival, eye witness accounts and interviews with victims that have been bitten.

Why? Because it makes good television – a lot of programmes will emphasise the drama as the producers think (still) this is what the viewer wants to see. They will put in the tense music and the wobbly hand-held camera shots to ramp up the suspense as they think this is what the viewer is tuning in for.

And of course a lot of people do want to see this – a lot of people associate the word shark with exactly that, fear and drama. Non-divers will often say that the thought of seeing a shark in the flesh is enough to keep them from trying scuba. They will forget about the hundreds of types of shark and only think about the big scary ones that the movies have portrayed.

Jaws is the biggest example of this – an entire generation didn’t go swimming for fear of meeting the same fate as Robert Shaw’s character, Quint. Immediately after that film, scores of sharks were killed by over-zealous fishermen desperately trying to save their communities. Of course it had as much about them wanting to kills sharks as anything else. After writing Jaws, Peter Benchley became an avid campaigner for the protection of sharks as he realised that he had unwittingly helped in vilifying them. Respect to him for doing something about it.

Still today, how many times do we see on social media people standing next to a huge shark that has been fished out of the water? Quite often that shark will be on the endangered list but still it is proudly shown as a trophy. There are organisations that highlight this and try to raise awareness, petitions will be signed and authorities notified. But nothing happens to the fishing companies that promote themselves on social media or the actual competitions that turn a blind eye to it.

One of the things that organisations do now is target the sponsors. They ask how they could be a part of something that blatantly disregards the protection of endangered species. This is often a good approach as if the sponsor pulls out, the money goes with them.

This is one of the good things about Shark Week – it does have a lot of programmes that show the beauty of sharks, scientific discovery and positive education that debunks the myths. And this is ultimately how we can protect and save sharks – through education.

Many resorts have realised that sharks are worth more in tourism if they are kept in the water – divers love to see sharks and will pay a lot of money to do it.

If sharks disappear then food chains collapse and ecosystems get out of balance. Sharks are necessary to the ocean and we can’t afford to lose them.  How do you convince millions of people that shark fin soup is pointless and destructive – how do you convince a fisherman that it’s not a heroic battle to land a big fish. As this is being written, there are lots of Chinese fishing boats around the Galapagos indiscriminately catching whatever they want and nothing is being done about it.

So enjoy Shark Week, learn lots and tell others about it. The more we educate ourselves, dive with them and stop eating them, the better their chances of survival. Oh and take the melodrama with a pinch of salt as remember, it makes good TV.

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