Discovery Channel Provokes Outrage with Fake Shark Week Documentary

The popular network has found great success in airing shows that mislead and misinform

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Jeff Kurr / Discovery Channel

The Discovery Channel is drawing fire after airing a documentary that is closer to science fiction than science fact.

On Sunday, the network kicked off Shark Week—their annual (and immensely popular) block of programs showcasing everyone’s favorite aquatic predator—with a program called Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives.

It sounds like a great premise. With a maximum length of 60 feet and teeth the size of butchers’ knives, the megalodon (not pictured at right) is one of history’s most fearsome predators. There’s only one problem: Despite what the show’s title may claim, this “monster shark” has been extinct for more than one million years.

Those watching the “documentary,” however, were not burdened with such inconvenient truths. Instead, Discovery hired actors to play marine biologists on a hunt for the megalodon around the coast of South Africa. Their expedition is mounted following the release of (faked) footage showing a fishing vessel taken down by a massive sea-dwelling predator (nicknamed “submarine”).

More fabricated “evidence” supporting the creature’s existence is presented, including a whale whose tail has been bitten off by an unknown animal, and a Coast Guard video showing a giant, shark-like shape moving through the water.

Viewers, perhaps accustomed to trusting a channel that calls itself “the world’s #1 non-fiction media company” (as Christie Wilcox of Discover magazine points out), were apparently convinced by all the smoke and mirrors (and CGI). A post-show poll shows 79 percent of respondents, as of Tuesday evening. believed the megalodon is still alive after watching the documentary. Only 27 percent said they thought the shark was extinct and “the scientists are right.”

Discovery is not new to the business of creating fake documentaries claiming to prove the existence of the strange and supernatural, In 2012 , Animal Planet—like the Discovery Channel, part of the vast Discovery Communications empire—aired a piece of so-called ‘docufiction’ entitled Mermaids: The Body Found. The immensely popular special featured footage of a “mermaid” that had supposedly washed up on a beach, and told of a government conspiracy to cover up the findings. However, Mermaids concludes with an admission that the program was fictional.

However, unlike Mermaids, Discovery’s Megalodon does not reveal its fantastical nature. In the closing seconds of the documentary, a brief disclaimer flashes across the screen stating:

None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.

This confusing statement — an organization not being officially “affiliated” with a film is very different than completely making up their involvement — is tempered by the remainder of the statement, which hints that the events of the program may be real after all:

Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day.

Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still a debate about what they may be.

At no point are the fake scientists or doctored footage mentioned.

It’s this apparently successful deception that has the internet up in arms. Discovery’s Facebook page was awash in criticism following the program, and geek icon Wil Wheaton penned a widely disseminated blog post slamming the network for abusing its viewer’s trust:

[Discovery] had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience.

Even after the hoax was revealed, Discovery has remained coy, essentially maintaining that, since a contemporary megalodon cannot be disproven, the jury is out on its continued existence.

“It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today?” said Shark Week executive produce Michael Sorensen to Fox News. “The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

But as Boston Magazine has cataloged, many actual marine biologists aren’t too happy that Discovery is playing fast and loose with the truth.

David Shiffman, a marine biologist who runs the twitter account @WhySharksMatter tweeted:

Wilcox, who wrote an open letter to Discovery criticizing the network, expressed a similar sentiment:

Despite the criticism, the show’s explosive ratings make it clear why Discovery was willing to risk alienating so many of its longtime fans. Megalodon attracted 4.8 million viewers and is the most popular Shark Week episode since the network began the programming block in 1988.

This success surely came as no surprise to Discovery executives, who watched a double feature of Mermaids: The Body Found and its sequel, Mermaids: The New Evidence, become the highest rated Animal Planet broadcast of all time.

With fictional programming proving so lucrative, Discovery is in the awkward position of staying true to its core science-oriented fan base or broadening its appeal and reaping the resulting profits. If Megalodon is indicative of the network’s future, a Loch Ness Monster documentary might not be too far away.

44 comments
bgfcjoe
bgfcjoe

I hate megalodon!!! that guys a damn jerk!!!!

maddinpig
maddinpig

I hate to say this .. but who are the 70% + of the 4.8 million viewers who believe in such hoax wholeheartedly? :( It does not bode well for a nation when so many of its people can be so easily fooled.


Then again .. perhaps they have just been conditioned by all the fake entertainment and the fabricated news in the mainstream media ... aka fox news.

TinyDancerPammy
TinyDancerPammy

I'm more confused about David Shiffman, who is a supposed and self-proclaimed "professional shark scientist", misspelling megalodon...

FernandoLucas
FernandoLucas

For decades it was taboo to speak of UFO and yet today all kept secrets so jealously are revealed, our planet called EARTH is 70% or more of water and barely scratch the surface, and we intend that agencies NOT affiliated Governments Discovered what others want us to hide, want to conquer the universe and not even know the house in which we live. I wonder if we are afraid to discover the truth? Thank you for your interest, but I really prefer the Discovery FICTION. It is more interesting

LeeJohnso
LeeJohnso

I'm very confused with all these definitive comments. How can anyone truly know what marine animals are extinct and which are not? How many examples did Discovery give of animals being discovered that were believed to be extinct in the past century? I do believe that only GOD would know for sure.


Every serious professional scientist would agree that we have explored a very small percentage of our planet's oceans. That being said, logic dictates that we could NOT POSSIBLY KNOW definitively that ANY marine animal is extinct....could we?


Everyone has their opinion and their right to it but let's not mislead people by saying we know for a fact that something marine is extinct. Just recently (2007) the largest recorded squid was discovered (33 ft in length measured wet).


Form whatever opinion you like but absolute statements only show ignorance and bias.

MichaelLindsay
MichaelLindsay

And do you know why eevil socialistic government funded outfits like Britain's BBC and Australia's ABC and SBS produce quality, factual, actual documentaries? Because their mandate is providing a public service, not selling Twinkies!

Of course many free-market worshiping "libertarians" will insist that these services are deeply unethical precisely because they care more about telling the truth than selling SUV's, soda or Iphones, go figure!

MikeZancola
MikeZancola

oh get over it people! they did the same thing with mermaids and dragons before and no one bitched like this!

Tony-Ashola
Tony-Ashola

Wait, so you're telling me not everything on tv is real? I am SO mad right now! Pro wrestling is real though, right? I mean those guys look like they're really hurting each other.     

Seriously, if you got that upset about a fake documentary you should sell your television, shrug off that junky-consumerist American lifestyle, and LIVE your life. 

Creativehopes@live.com
Creativehopes@live.com

Feeling pretty stupid about now. For the first time ever I watched a documentary for shark week and recorded this show. I was under the impression that a documentary was based on real events :

doc·u·men·ta·ry (dky-mnt-r)

adj.

1. Consisting of, concerning, or based on documents.

2. Presenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter, as in a book or film.

n. pl. doc·u·men·ta·ries

A work, such as a film or television program, presenting political, social, or historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.

Sadly I was completely engrossed and found out after doing my own research that it was all fake. I realize that the chances of this prehistoric creature existing is slim to none, but that has always been the thrill factor of using small bits of "real material " to back up such claims. In this the claims were all a hoax and as we'll as the evidence.

Very disappointed, shame on you Discovery Channel! Not a documentary!

Anonomi
Anonomi

I previously worked for Discovery Channel. I am deeply disappointed with the network. I was told that due to the "almighty ratings" Discovery no longer does true animal shows, only human reality drama ,'cause thats what viewers want. Shark week is their "sacred cow".  Funny that most shark biologists openly refuse to work with anything related to Shark week. What they trowel up is now an insult. This is what happens when accountants run networks (not like in the past when it was producers and directors).

Also sexual comments? drinking games?  You've got to be kidding me!

Put it in the category of shows like Naked and Afraid

Welcome to the new low

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

It got people talking and generated more buzz.  Free advertising is good advertising.

What, you thought Discovery Channel aired their shows for free?  They want to improve their revenue.  And they can pass off how much MORE people need to watch if they swallowed their fake documentary as real.  It was obviously a marketing ploy.  That's what businesses do. Put on a fake piece that generates buzz at the beginning of the week and you get more people talking about it and watching.  Then put the same one on at the end of the week, with the disclaimer that IF it was really alive, these are things we'd probably have noticed by now, but haven't, and aren't you glad you watched all week to learn that?

C'mon, people, those folks at Discovery knew what they were doing.  Tongue firmly in cheek.  Try not to take it so seriously.  It's TV, not reality.

WayneStMarie
WayneStMarie

i have been watching  Discovery for well over ten years and this just makes me sick.The world has a enough of this crap on TV we catch DC for information on real events and real live animals not some fabricated crap the has done nothing be disappointed me and many other long time viewers!


PeacerockerPerez
PeacerockerPerez

Sellouts, they've lost my family and I as viewers. Both Discovery and History channels use to be a great learning experience for kids, now what is real and what is fake? You have to be a speed reader in order to read all the credits and disclaimers at the end of all programs!. STOP WATCHING HISTORY AND DISCOVERY CHANNELS, hit them where it hurts and you'll see how quickly things turn around!    

sassy1185
sassy1185

What a bunch of dips to pull this kind of stunt. You have lost a viewer, click

messy1
messy1

History-Channel 2 (H2) has been doing this crap for quite a while now.

Kinggrayiv
Kinggrayiv

The only way this could get any better is if Megalodon, which clearly still exists, gets swept up in a tornado over the ocean, and then bites people and buildings as the tornado moves over land. 

Ah, how i love science.

davidmorganthailand
davidmorganthailand

Watch David Attenborough's Life on Earth series to see how a proper natural history documentary should be made. More than 20 years old but still sets the standard.


Discovery = too many ads, too much repetition, too much dramatization, not enough sustained thought = opium for our kids. But I guess they are making money.

davidmorganthailand
davidmorganthailand

"79 percent of respondents... believed the megalodon is still alive after watching the documentary"

Perhaps says something about the average intelligenceof the viewers. How are these people processing and assessing the information that's thrown at them? Not at all, it appears. It's more important than ever to teach our kids some critical thinking skills.

Bartley86
Bartley86

I caught this "documentary". At first I was like, "Awesome! They found it!". But then I remembered it's been extinct for a lil bit. They had some sort of after show associated with it that kinda conveyed that it was fictional. I can see the hype resulting from it, but to take what you see on TV as serious as those 76% did without research are idiots. I think this was an error on Discovery's part because they overestimated the general public.

CecilieLarsen
CecilieLarsen

$60 AN hour! Seriously I do not grasp why additional individuals haven't tried this, I work 2 shifts, a pair of hours within the day and a pair of within the evening…And what's impressive is I'm engaging from home thus I purchase longer with my youngsters. Here is what I did...w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

LELL
LELL

I don't want to live on this planet anymore.

BullHorn
BullHorn

Newsflash people, c'mon folks 90% of all TV is made up stuff that's barely watchable. Bigfoot legends, UFO's, Lockness monsters, you name it. Ask the tourism mongers. They make most of this crap up. You mean there really is no Santa? Someone shoot me now. Thank you.

pahollingshead
pahollingshead

I wonder what percentage of the Discovery Channel viewers also tune into FOX News? I'd guess there is significant audience overlap.  

JenniferBonin
JenniferBonin

And this is why real scientists and engineers don't watch the Discovery Channel, or at least only watch it for entertainment, not information.

Color me unsurprised.

MegaTips
MegaTips

Discovery should also cover modern day witch hunts. Perhaps there are witches. I'm sure the world will be a better place when the possible and probable are given nearly the same amount of respect.

garlador
garlador

I remember when Sci-Fi Channel showed nothing but Sci-Fi content.I remember when MTV was about Music. I remember when Cartoon Network was just 24 hours of cartoons. I remember when the History Channel talked about history and not Aliens. I remember when The Learning Channel taught us stuff rather than show us Honey Boo Boo reality TV. I remember when Animal Planet was about animals and not Mermaids. I remember when the Discovery Channel was about amazing non-fiction discoveries and not imaginary fantasy.

Nothing is sacred in the name of ratings. 

MegaTips
MegaTips

“The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?” Failing to take everything into context. Or stupid. Or greedy. Perhaps both.

Garzhad
Garzhad

I dunno. When I lived in south carolina we used to go diving monthly and dig up megalodon teeth from the seabed. Teeth we found were anywhere from 3 to 6 inches long, and while unreliable, we had had a few carbon dated to only a century or so old. It isn't likely, but i wouldnt rule out the possibility of some still residing in the deep blue.

BarbaraWhite1
BarbaraWhite1

OMG seriously the disclaimer stated that this shark no longer existed but that SIGHTINGS STILL PERSIST to this day!!  It's like Elvis we know he is dead but even now more than 30 years after his death sightings still persist. 

jerryhazard
jerryhazard

Not to mention that drunken dumbfest "Shark After Dark".  Discover flipped the script, no doubt, the new branding is not keen.

joezias
joezias

Starting to sound like all those Discovery, Jerusalem Jesus tomb documentaries passed off as hard science, whereas its nothing but an attempt to  be 'Dan Brown' II while they laugh all the way to the bank. Unfortunately American professors of rel. studies, sold out and  jumped on the 'gravy train' while the universities looked askance. 

Piacevole
Piacevole

In re: The Loch Ness monster:  Don't give Discover any ideas.  They're quite capable of screwing up all by themselves.

tcement
tcement

Couple of things. The actor scientists were EXTREMELY acty, unconvincing, showing no sign they had any idea what they were talking about. Their on screen name badges did not indicate any academic affiliation. The usual suspects, Costeau et al., were entirely lacking.There was no explanation of how this very expensive "investigation" was so quickly thrown together or how it was funded. Whole thing had the authenticity of Nigerian 419 scam. I could not watch to the end but I suspect Bernie Madoff got an executive producer credit.

maddinpig
maddinpig

@LeeJohnso  You do know that after years of searching and with all the evidence .. or lack there of over so many years, if NO new carcass or skeleton were ever found, it does point to a rapidly diminishing probability that it is still in existence (if it ever was, in the form that was depicted).


But you are right to say that its existence cannot be totally debunk, for the same goes for ALL other fantasy creature, for science is never about a definitive truth (despite what you might think), but about finding out MORE about the truth (in an never ending journey) through the principle of falsification (among others).


Also, that was never the main issue. The main issue is that Discover Channel DEPICT and POSITION the show as an documentary .. that is based on FACTS and TRUTH, while in reality it is a totally made up show about what it THINK might be POSSIBLE if such an event happened. And you see nothing wrong with this at all?

79tarheel
79tarheel

@garlador Amen!  Credibility of Discovery Channel just went down the tubes. What rubbish for that previously respected channel to show that. Entertaining if on Sci-Fi channel, unbelievable that Discovery put it on. Anything for a buck!!!   For those of you who think it is real, take a look at the very neat pile of the whale's insides piled so neatly behind the half of whale....do you REALLY think after washing in from the ocean (and wouldn't it have been eaten at by many creatures along the way???!!!)  the insides would have landed like that on the shore???  Wake up and think for yourselves!  SHAME ON DISCOVERY!!!!

Vpanoptes
Vpanoptes

@BarbaraWhite1 

Elvis is actually dead now-  he was flirting with a mermaid and was eaten by "Megalodon".

auronlu
auronlu

@joezias You're assuming the Discovery channel's "experts" on the Jesus shows are real university professors, when the "experts" in this Megalodon show were paid actors pretending to be fictional scientists?

Vpanoptes
Vpanoptes

@tcement

Like Elvis, Bernie was eaten by Megalodon.  Probably on the same sunken fishing boat..

LeeJohnso
LeeJohnso

@79tarheel@garlador I suppose you followed that whale carcass and know 100% for sure that an extraordinarily large shark did not take a bite? Stop making absolute statements saying what did or did not bite a whale carcass.....nobody really knows except God. Why can't people just be honest and say "I don't know" if one of these monsters still exist? Any other statement either way is just ignorant or biased.

Sd1332
Sd1332

The ones upset are interested in a scientific point of view. You clearly are not. These people want to be as close to today's known facts as possible, this show was deceptive. That is why they are upset. For you to base logic on an untouchable and unseeable clairvoyant god that leaves no evidence to exist is in fact biased and ignorant of you.