On Wednesday at 6 p.m. (9 p.m. ET), Shark Week will air arguably its most beneficial special in the history of the 30-year franchise: Shark Tank Meets Shark Week. And in the end, one conservation group will earn a $50,000 donation.
For 30 years, the Shark Week franchise has thrived on both America’s fear and fascination with its namesake pelagic species. On Sunday, Shark Week celebrated its reign as the longest-running TV franchise in history with celeb-specials featuring Shaq and Bear Grylls interacting with apex predators and braving the deep blue. Unlike years past, though, Shark Week appears to be slowly turning its tail away from common fear-based entertainment that spins sharks as bloodthirsty predators, toward an approach that highlights the need for studying the behavior of and fighting for the conservation of these majestic animals.
On some level, Shark Week’s origins are tangled with popular culture’s morbid fascination with sharks (and more specifically Great White sharks) that arose out of the Hollywood film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws. The “Jaws Effect,” a term originally coined by Dr. Christopher Neff at the University of Sydney, describes the tendency of Westerners to base public opinion (and even statewide policy) on the film.
In addition to the unmistakable wind and tuba score that has since become synonymous with a looming shark encounter, the film served to further the stereotype that the human-shark relationship is simply one of prey and predator. We now know those roles are actually the opposite given humans kill an average of 100 million sharks annually.
At the root of rising efforts working to combat this troublesome statistic, one key objective seems to tie everything together: changing public perception.
Certainly, the Shark Week franchise has benefited from the “Jaws Effect” in its own right over the years, from publicizing brutal attacks to exploring the biological dominance of the shark itself. Still, programming in recent years has made a concentrated effort to reverse course.
In Wednesday’s special, ABC’s Emmy winning, self-made tycoons Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, and Mark Cuban will each pitch each other on a shark conservation organization, with one earning $50,000 to fuel that organization’s efforts. The business sharks will all interact with biological sharks, experiencing conservation efforts from the safety of an actual shark tank. Ultimately, they will have to convince their peers that the conservation group that hosted them is worthy of a $50,000 donation in a winner-take-all pitch off.
The special alone is evidence the Discovery Channel is earnestly stepping up its support of shark conservation efforts in order to change public perception. And the prospect of a $50,000 donation to one lucky group is exactly the kind of positive attention that the species deserves.