Nothing says summer like the presence of sharks – especially at the beach – and this year, Discovery’s Shark Week promises to bring more and better programming to its viewers. And no doubt, lots of really cool footage of great whites breaching the ocean’s surface.
Kicking off Sunday, the 28th annual event offers up 19 hours of new programming highlighting shark behaviors, previously unknown species, migratory patterns and all manner of ground-breaking research – with an assist from ever-improving technology.
“Honestly, sharks continue to be so fascinating to people and the research just keeps expanding every year,” explains Howard Swartz, vice president of documentaries and specials for Discovery. “And this isn’t the whole story but I think as technology improves, researchers’ and scientists’ ability to learn new things and kind of see behaviors and access sharks in environments they’ve never been able to see before, I think that continues to evolve as well. So we’re able to sort of keep it new and fresh by either finding shark species that we never knew existed before or seeing behaviors that we had never been able to see before all through research and technology.”
Probably the most noteworthy program of the week is “Tiburones: The Sharks of Cuba” (airing Tuesday), in which American and Cuban scientists came together to research great white sharks in a previously unexplored area of the world – 70 years after a 21-foot behemoth dubbed “El Monstruo” was caught off the island nation’s coast.
“One scientist referred to (Cuba) as what it looked like in the Bahamas 70-80 years ago, just kind of pristine and untouched,” Swartz says. “And there is such a huge amount of diversity in terms of the sharks that live off Cuban waters that they just haven’t had a chance to study. It’s really important to understand what sharks are there, why are they there, what’s the migration patterns of some of the sharks. Are they resident populations? Are they coming through? All those are really important and sort of larger shark conservation efforts in addition to just being really cool, big sharks that hang out there.”
Another highlight is Sunday’s “Shark Trek,” in which researchers trace migratory patterns of great whites from Cape Cod down to the Atlantic Coast of Florida. According to the marine biologist who spearheads the research, Dr. Greg Skomal, sharks are drawn to the Massachusetts coast by a robust population of seals, the beast’s natural forage. But with no seals in Florida, researchers were at a loss to explain their presence.
“It’s describing this pattern as the snowbird migratory pattern – Cape Cod in the summer, Florida in the winter,” Skomal says. “… But what were they eating in Florida? That’s where really this show begins, and we’re trying to unravel the mystery of how Florida fits into the biology and natural history and ecology of the white shark in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Other shows include “Alien Sharks: Close Encounter” (Monday), which looks at little-known species found in previously unexplored ocean depths; “Monster Mako” (Sunday), in which mako sharks are fitted with cameras and monitored; “Shark Planet” (Thursday), which chronicles shark behavior; and Sunday’s “Island of the Mega Shark,” which heads to the Mexican Baja to find some of the largest great whites on the planet.