Next week will herald another edition of Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week - a week of shark-related programming that has come to be viewed by many conservationists as a two-edged sword.
On the one hand, Shark Week does a tremendous service by focusing attention on sharks with this concentrated week of programming. It draws in a wide swath of viewers from die-hard shark fanatics to the mildly curious. It's a great opportunity to reach people to inform and enlighten about the important role sharks play in a balanced marine ecosystem and to alert people to the many dangers these animals are facing worldwide.
But on the other hand, to attract the widest possible viewing audience often requires promoting and reinforcing the misconceptions and false stereotype images that people have about sharks. Conservation issues have often been included almost as an afterthought and were outweighed by the more sensational content - kind of a one step forward, two steps back approach as far as many conservationists are concerned.
As a filmmaker, I can appreciate the economics of this dilemma and I can only hope that Discovery will take advantage of its brand to make a difference in people's perception about sharks and what needs to be done to protect them. It can still be done profitably but the need is imperative. Otherwise, someday they will need to move Shark Week to the History Channel.
Each year, I always have high hopes but if the programming shifts to "blood-thirsty, deadly shark attacks", take that as a cue for a bathroom or refrigerator break.