Megalodon Myths Dispelled: Sharks Deserve Better than 'Shark Week' (Op-Ed)

A megalodon shark.
A megalodon shark. (Image credit: Giovanni Bianucci)

Perrin Ireland is senior science communications specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. This post was adapted from one that originally appeared on the NRDC blog Switchboard. Ireland contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Earlier this month, as I saw countless shark myths getting airtime during Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," I decided I needed a refreshing reality check on sharks' real lives and current population status.

These questions decidedly weren't being answered on the Discovery Channel (actor Wil Wheaton, among others, held them to task), so I dialed up NRDC's resident "sharkspert," Brad Sewell, who's been working to get great hammerhead and dusky sharks listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act.

"If sharks were in charge, they would call it 'Sharks' Revenge' instead of 'Shark Week,'" Sewell said."The titillating bone-crunching being shown on TV this week would be revenge for what humans do to sharks the other 51 weeks of the year. The reality is that we are a much greater threat to sharks than they are to us. There were a dozen fatal shark attacks in 2011. Around the world, it's been estimated that we kill that many sharks every four seconds, for their meat, liver oil and fins."

Sewell has blogged about the hammerheadand duskyshark petitions he is helping move forward, and I asked him to join me for an update and a few laughs about sharks and lawyers.

In the wake of Shark Week, my colleagues and I at NRDC have been floating in the deep end of the "Cooler than #SharkWeek" pool, a movement started by scientists who love Shark Week, but hate misinforming the public.

You might have seen some kerfluffle about the mockumentary that aired on night one of Shark Week about a long-extinct shark called megalodon. Discovery aired the episode without informing its audience that it was fake. The "scientific experts" that appeared on the show were, in fact, actors.

The Cooler than #SharkWeek army formed in rapid response to the unfortunate lack of science the documentary perpetuated. It was time for a science takeover. The movement was the brainchild of #sharkscienceadvocate Brian Switek, who promised to share real information about nature every day of Shark Week, and kept his word.

The upside of the Discovery Channel blunder is that informed authorities on this extinct shark are coming out of the woodwork to share their knowledge, and it's always satisfying when nature produces a reality that's even more awe-inspiring than the mockumentaries can drum up.

Take a break from the nonsense and tune in to some thrilling shark reality.The publicdeserves a science buffet of great Cooler than #SharkWeek contentto keep the power of sharks, in all their glorious reality, alive.

First, a personal favorite, Christie Wilcox (@NerdyChristie) of Science Sushi at Discover Magazine Blogs who had a cameo on CNN setting the shark science record straight. She tells it like it is in an open letter to Discovery Communications expressing the general sentiments of science-curious audience members who felt really let down by the falsehoods the network perpetuated — they actually claimed that a shark that's been extinct might still be out there, and a threat to humans. The time of the megalodon is past, by the way. Very past. Like 2 million years past.

Wilcox posted an outstanding roundup of the best shark science content she came across during Shark Week. There are juicy links to blogs about how the sharks that we are familiar with today might not even be as cool as the coolest ancient sharks, how you're not going to get attacked by a shark, whether humans can build a shark-proof suit — in case you actually do have a mistaken-identity accident where a shark mistakes you for a seal — how complicated shark reproduction really is, and whether sharks form social networks.

To learn more about the real megalodon, check out Jacquelyn Gill's(@JacquelynGill) post on the Megatooth Shark, which contains some jaw-dropping factual information. There is also some extremely in-depth information from an authentic paleozoologist, Darren Naish, regarding the mighty megalodon and a piece from Brian Switek about how megalodons are thought to have hunted the large whales of their era.

And don't miss the world's largest group of scientists requesting that humans quit referring to mistakes sharks make when hunting prey — mistakes that result in the sharks accidentally grabbing humans — as "shark attacks." See David Shiffman's blog post on Southern Fried Science about the effort to rephrase those events as "shark accidents."

Another dynamite shark science repository is Ed Yong's post on #sharkscience: Like Shark Week, but with Actual Facts. Imagine that! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's YouTube channel is swimming with informational videos, as well.

So keep cool during the dog days of August reading some killer shark content, and remember: Don't be afraid to go back in the water. Really.

The author wishes to thank Hadley Greswold, Janna D'Ambrisi, Eunice Park and Serena Ingre for video production support. The original post, Cooler than #Shark Week: #SharkScience appeared on the NRDC blog Switchboard. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on

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