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The Strength and Success of Shark Week

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Decades after the release of Jaws, the sound of Dun dun... Dun dun... still gets people excited today. People are fascinated, and far too often terrified, by sharks. Our fear of sharks is simply irrational considering that you are more likely to be killed by a toaster than a shark. Unfortunately, we tend to fear what we do not understand. The fact is, we should be scared FOR sharks, not of them.

I occasionally hear people say that the world would be better off without sharks. What these people don't know is that without sharks, the oceans would suffer devastating and unpredictable consequences. As our ocean's top predators, sharks need to be protected. But here's the tricky part -- how do we spread this knowledge to the rest of the world?

Discovery Channel's Shark Week is the one week each year when Americans turn on their televisions for the sole purpose of being captivated by sharks. This one week provides a unique opportunity to reach out to the general public to educate them about sharks, the threats jeopardizing their future and what we can all do to help protect them. Discovery Channel is increasingly using Shark Week as a chance to raise awareness about shark conservation and urge viewers to take action to help protect sharks.

Shark Week 2010, which is when Oceana became an official conservation partner, did not contain phrases like "man eater" and provided more context on the rarity of shark attacks. In addition, viewers were provided with a more conservation focused episode with Late, Late Show host Craig Ferguson. Discovery also aired shark conservation public service announcements (PSAs) staring Ferguson and directed viewers to the internet where they could write to their members of Congress to support the Shark Conservation Act, which was subsequently signed into law in January.

Furthermore, the buzz about Shark Week does not stop at the Discovery Channel. A constant stream of media attention surrounds this highly sought-after programming. Each year during Shark Week, television talk shows across the country interview shark experts and shark week topics even slip into scripted TV programs. For example, Tracy Morgan's character on the NBC sitcom 30 Rock advised another character to "Live every week like it's Shark Week."

While I can't give away any details about the 2011 programming, what I can tell you is that Discovery Channel is finding new and interesting ways to entertain, educate and captivate all at the same time.

While Shark Week might leave some thinking twice about entering the water, it helped spread a single conservation message to nearly 31 million viewers in just one week in 2010. With that said, let me be the first to wish you a Happy Shark Week 2011.

This post first appeared in Scuba Diving Magazine.

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