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'Shark of Darkness' out there now, thanks to Shark Week, so now let's debunk some shark myths!

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Sunday, August 17, 2014, 9:48 AM - In response to the controversial Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, which kicked off the Discovery Channel's celebrated Shark Week on Sunday night, it's time to deal with not only the suspect science represented in the annual curtain-raiser, but also the persistent myths that still float around about sharks.

Although the location is off, the events are muddled and the entire thing is based on an urban myth created years ago, the 'documentary' shown by The Discovery Channel follows the story of a huge, apparently intelligent shark named 'Submarine', which hunts humans. How it does this is apparently quite ingenious, as it 'lies in wait', posed vertically in the water, like the iconic poster from the Jaws movies. When a hapless human goes by overhead, Submarine simply swims straight up and makes a meal of them. The first thing wrong with this is that Submarine is entirely made up. Blatantly so, in fact. The 'legend' of Submarine was created by journalists, specifically to see how easily they could fool your average newspaper reader.

The resulting Discovery Channel prompted numerous posts on Twitter about people being unable to make it through just five minute of watching, while the science was so offside that it raised the ire of real marine scientists and zoologists as well, such as Andrew David Thaler of Southern Fried Science and guest writer Michelle Wcisel:

Jeff Kurr, the producer, director and host of Shark Week since it began over 20 years ago, appeared in a Reddit AMA on Sunday, where he apparently decided not to talk about Shark of Darkness, but he was quick to defend last year's offering - Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives.

"Personally, I have always been fascinated by the idea of a Megalodon being out there somewhere," Kurr wrote in response to one question. "I've spent a lot of time on the ocean and heard a lot of stories about massive sharks, but that's part of the allure of the sea… it's a giant mystery."

"Discovery has to have a variety of shows to reach a wide audience," he added. "So, I wasn't outraged by the [Megalodon] show, I thought it was entertaining and I took it in good fun."

Shark week is certainly more than just the highly publicized 'fake-u-mentaries' like the Megalodon one and this more recent one about Submarine, but marine scientist Thaler points out the problem with this in his Twitter feed:

So, in an effort to provide some real facts about sharks, here are the top five myths about these magnificent creatures, and the truth behind them:

Myth #1: All sharks are mindless killing/eating machines

The Jaws movies hold a certain amount of blame for this one. There's this idea that all sharks will attack and kill anything that moves in the water. While sharks will eat whenever there is food available (contrary to another belief, that they don't feed near midday), they aren't indiscriminate in their choices of food. They have very specific dietary needs, and the prey that they go after are the ones that can supply that for them. Ocean Ramsey, a model, surfer and diver who holds a degree in marine biology, worked with sharks in marine parks, and now promotes shark conservation, spoke with Australian news site news.com.au recently, saying: "Whales would be like chocolate cake for the starving shark." Humans, on the other hand, aren't as tasty, the article went on to say. "We don't really have that body composition," Ramsey added, and even pointed out that in one case, she was bleeding while surrounded by sharks and none bothered her.

Also, there is nothing mindless about a shark. They certainly aren't as intelligent as the 'antagonists' in the Jaws movies were portrayed, or how smart Submarine is supposed to be (all fictitious, mind you), but they are intelligent creatures that are quite aware of their surroundings. They can even be trained, as this video from Discovery.com shows.

Myth #2: Sharks hunt humans

Humans aren't actually on the menu for sharks. It's true there are attacks and people have died from these, but it's extremely rare to even be bitten by a shark, let alone die from it. Over the 25 years from 1985-2010, the State of Florida recorded a total of 484 shark attacks, and only six resulted in death. Keeping comparisons to ocean-related things, rip currents have resulted in far more deaths than shark attacks, in a much shorter amount of time. Incidents of sharks biting people are mainly cases of mistaken identity and curiosity. A surfer lying on a surfboard unfortunately looks a lot like a seal when in silhouette, which can easily prompt an attack. Most bites are 'exploratory', where the shark is trying to figure out if the person is good to eat. Since we don't have the same body composition as a whale or seal, the shark isn't interested, and typically doesn't come back for another bite. Unfortunately, these incidences - called 'unprovoked attacks' - still result in injury and possibly death for the person bit, but it isn't because the shark is deliberately going after a human meal. Other cases are considered 'provoked attacks', where the shark is simply defending itself or responding to what it perceives as a threat, either to itself or its food supply. 

Also, it's worth pointing out that, out of hundreds of species of sharks in the oceans, only about a dozen or so have ever been documented in attacks on humans.


CELEBRATE SHARKS!: Come back every day this week for more stories about the awesome nature of sharks. If you have your own questions about these incredible creatures, leave them in the comments section below and we'll answer them later in the week!


Next Page: Dispelling more myths about sharks


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