No, that’s not the foreboding Jaws theme foreshadowing an attack. Rather it’s a warning from researchers that “Shark Week” needs a boost of diversity and positive shark messaging going forward.
Discovery’s primetime “Shark Week” programing has relied on negative shark stereotyping, a lack of emphasis on conservation themes, and predominantly featured White, male shark experts—all of that according to a study published recently in the Public Library of Science.
Researchers examined hundreds of Shark Week programs that have aired since 1988 to analyze the messages being conveyed about sharks—and who communicates them. More than 90 percent of experts featured in the episodes are White; and roughly 78 percent were male.
“When there are hundreds of people of color interested who work in this field, [and] when my field is more than half women, maybe it’s not an accident anymore that they’re only featuring White men,” David Shiffman, a co-author of the study from Arizona State University, told The Washington Post.
Last year, Discovery responded to the initial findings with the following statement: “We will pass on commenting on a study that has yet to pass any scientific approvals and stick by our actual scientists and conservation efforts and partners.” They have yet to comment since the scientific review.
I think we can all agree that diversity in programing and hosts has the potential to foster a new generation of shark conservationists. While we wait for what Shark Week 2023 has in store, there’s plenty of time to support organizations such as Minorities in Shark Sciences (MISS), which work on the frontlines every day.