Discovery Channel Contributes to Shark Misogyny

I happened to catch an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive on Discovery Channel last night. This particular episode was about a pair of research divers who survived more than 12 hours adrift in the South Pacific near The Solomon Islands. A whole hour of irresponsible fear mongering.

The non-diving public loves stories that trade on their fears, and sharks, of course, feature very high on our list of fears. So the whole show is all about how fearful they were of the sharks while they drifted and how lucky they were not to have been eaten. No proof of whether the sharks would actually even be interested in human flesh. Just good ol’ fashioned hysteria and irrationalism. This from the self-styled marine researcher who was one of the two divers.

While I appreciate that the theme of the program is surviving against all odds, in fact, this particular episode is really about surviving in spite of all the mistakes these divers made. The true lesson of these divers’ experience goes right back to basic open water diver training.

Fact: two divers surface from a dive in strong currents in open ocean, far from land

Fact: the divers carried no surface signalling devices

Fact: one of the divers, the less experienced one, did not even bother to pay attention to the dive plans and the pickup plans

When the divers surfaced from their dive, the dive boat was in sight but out of their reach due to the strong currents. Also due to the strong currents and due to the dive site being in open ocean, there was no mooring to keep the boat in place, so the boat engine was running and consuming gas while the divers were underwater. The divers yelled, but of course, even if the engines were quiet, it’s no guarantee the handlers could have heard them. Meanwhile, the boat was running low on gas; it hangs around as long as it could but had to return to shore while gas supplies lasted in order to get help locating the missing divers. And so, the divers drifted.

The irony of this situation is that these divers did not make a series of mistakes. In fact, they made only one: diving in strong currents in the open ocean far from assistance, the divers carried no surface marker buoy (SMB) nor air horns. An air horn would surely have given them a better chance of being heard over the din of the boat engine than their own feeble voices. A high visibility (orange or yellow) 9- or 10-foot SMB would have given them a much better chance of being sighted in the middle of a featureless stretch of open ocean.

It’s so disappointing that a channel such as Discovery that promotes itself as a friend of science should find it necessary to broadcast programs such as these. On the US Discovery website, the organization promotes itself as being committed to education. I Shouldn’t Be Alive is pure sensationalism and presents no other value unless the viewer herself approaches it as a learning opportunity and extrapolates an educational angle from it. More likely than not, it will simply contribute to the tradition of fear mongering about a precious member of Earth’s ecosystem, a tradition of which Jaws is a popular example.

And so Discovery has contributed to the disastrous dis-information about sharks and how they relate to human beings in Earth’s ecological system.

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