Discovery's 'Shark Week' hopes to enchant and thrill viewers
NEW YORK -- If you think you're safe avoiding sharks by simply staying out of the water, think again.
A few species of epaulette sharks have evolved to move their pectoral fins in the front and pelvic fins in the back to plod along outside the water at low tide. Just to be perfectly clear: That's on land.
Relax, none are going to chase you home. They're just wriggling.
"They're not sprinting. There are no ankle-biters coming to get anybody. It's just this fascinating behavior taking place," says wildlife conservationist and biologist Forrest Galante.
So-called walking sharks of Papua New Guinea are among the stars of this year's Shark Week, with 25 hours of programming dedicated to all varieties of the apex predators on the Discovery Channel and streaming on discovery+ starting Sunday.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will be the week's recurring master of ceremonies - a first such role in the 34 years of Shark Week. Celebrities with shows include the stars of truTV's "Impractical Jokers," the cast of "Jackass" and comedian Tracy Morgan making his Shark Week debut.
Morgan teams up with shark experts - including his 9-year-old shark-crazy daughter, Maven Sonae, who has a 20,000-gallon fish tank in her backyard - to identify the craziest and most ferocious in the ocean. "She's my best co-star ever," says Morgan. "She's always been into marine life since she was a baby."
The programing includes a look at giant makos off the Azores, great whites off Cape Cod and in South Africa, hammerheads in The Bahamas, mysterious cold-water sharks in Alaska and tiger sharks in Turks and Caicos.
As always, there is a deep respect for the creatures and strong science beneath the amusing titles and premises, like "Jaws vs Kraken," "Dawn of the Monster Mako" and "Great White Serial Kill: Fatal Christmas."
"Sharks are an incredibly vital part of our ocean. And as a scientist and science communicator, I want to do everything in my power to spread what wonderful, interesting and unique creatures they are and how important the protection of these creatures is," says Galante, whose show "Island of Walking Sharks" airs Wednesday.
One of the more spectacular sights is never-before-seen footage of a pack of orcas killing a great white off the coast of South Africa. "It's just such an incredible but very sinister and worrying set of events," said Alison Towner, a marine biologist at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust. "I think it's going to really blow the world's mind."
Towner is also part of the all-female led show "Shark Women: Ghosted by Great Whites," which tries to unravel the mystery of why great white populations are thinning and highlights Zandile Ndhlovu, South Africa's first Black African free diving instructor.
"Let's be honest, there's a lot of men on Shark Week. And not every demographic has always been represented. She comes in as this authentic South African woman and she's given this opportunity, and that to me is a really important part of the show," she says.
There's also a new entry in the "Air Jaws" series of airborne great whites. "Air Jaws: Top Guns" is the 15th show featuring the ancient beasts jumping out of the water to attack their prey or a decoy.
"What I try to do with '˜Air Jaws' is give people just an appreciation of these animals," says veteran filmmaker Jeff Kurr. "You just fall in love with these sharks because they're so beautiful, and what they do is so incredible."
Kurr also submitted the 90-minute documentary "Great White Open Ocean," which centers on shark diving expert Jimi Partington as he works to overcome the post-traumatic stress disorder he developed following a recorded, near-fatal run-in with a great white shark in 2020.
"We captured a sequence where he was actually hit by a 16-foot great white, knocked into the air - the shark with its mouth agape, literally an inch away from him - and somehow he survived this without a scratch," says Kurr. "Still when I watch it, I get heart palpitations. I was there. I was standing there watching it happen and I thought he was dead."
Discovery's "Shark Week" has a rival - its programming coincides with National Geographic's "SharkFest," which has almost 30 hours of new content. But this year marks the first Shark Week since the creation of the media giant Warner Bros. Discovery, which can leverage offerings across its diverse assets, including HGTV, the Food Network, TBS, TLC, CNN, HBO and HBO Max.
Nancy Daniels, chief of content at TBS, TNT and Discovery called Shark Week a "huge pop culture event" and "the tentpole of the summer." This year's programming is "a big moment for us as a company to show what we can do and a strength of who we are now as Warner Bros. Discovery."
The Food Network is getting into the act with recipes for Shark Banana Pops, a Shark Diorama Cake and No-Churn Shark Ice Cream. CNN will re-air "Great White Open Ocean." TBS will have shark cage match wrestling, and on TNT, viewers can watch a Shark Week-themed monster movie marathon. There are even two shark-shaped blimps flying on either coast.
"It's a privilege to work on something that speaks to so many people in slightly different ways," says Josh Kovolenko, senior vice president of marketing at Discovery. "If you're a conservation fan, if you're into the science, if you're into just the pop culture and want to be part of something that everyone's talking about, a summer phenomenon, we have that for you."
Shark Week was born as a counterpoint for those who developed a fear of sharks and a desire to eradicate them after seeing "Jaws." It has emerged as a destination for scientists eager to protect an animal older than trees.
"Shark Week allows me to share my work on these amazing stories with millions of people," says Galante. "I want millions of people to fall in love with sharks. And that's what Shark Week allows me to do year after year."