Discovery Channel Provokes Outrage with Fake Shark Week Documentary

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

  • Share
  • Read Later
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.

59 comments
JaideKulyas
JaideKulyas

The problem with everyone these days is that we live in such a superficial world that we think everything is fake. Who cares. Why can't you just appreciate a good story. If you want 100percent real, maybe you should become a shark scientist.

DanSpencer
DanSpencer

Wow that sucks!!! Santa, Easter Bunny, Wrestling, NASCAR and now Discovery Channel!!!! I'm cancelling my cable channel because of this!! I can see fiction on ALL channels!!

starlight_812
starlight_812

DISAPPOINTED!!

I want the truth with facts on discovery channel not the Science Fiction channel.

Worldsend
Worldsend

to bad a good channel went to fiction.

Discovery channel reps.....I've had the discovery channel for as long as I can remember. I also have 2 sons that love nature shows as well. Why have you now gone to fiction? And what's worse is you don't tell the viewers that it is. At least let the viewers know in the info bar if they choose to waste their time watching it. Your shows were a learning channel with epic shots of nature and brought the viewers into places they would only dream of seeing. I now find myself watching fake shows only to tell both kids that keep asking if it's real or not? I'm sure your programing may be geared for a crowd of certain viewers, but I'm at a loss for it. And at the end of the clearly fake images and bad acting I feel like I've just lost a few hours of our lives we can't get back.
 Very disappointed in your change. I think we'll switch to Oasis or some other real nature shows that actually teach the kids about real life. Perhaps your company should open a new channel that's called DIScovery. Nothing to learn here.

pandora1010
pandora1010

Because I was always under the impression that Discovery featured documentaries that were factual, I found myself  googling info after watching Megladon.  I was very disappointed that they chose to present information as a documentary that was "made up."  I so enjoyed Shark Week in the past and would watch educational programs on animals all day long, but I am no longer sure if what I am watching is real or fake, so I have lost interest.  I can watch brainless, fake TV all day long in reality shows if I want to be dumbed down.  Lost viewer.

kfazio01
kfazio01

The program "Megalodon" was meant to be entertaining and thought provoking. Discovery is not asking the viewers to take it as the gospel of James. They're merely creating a show to bring into discussion the possibility that sharks this size may still be around. That's why it's called D I S C O V E R Y Channel, allowing ones imagination to think of other possibilities. 

kfazio01
kfazio01

Absolutely no reason, be it scientific or otherwise that this shark cannot still exist. My husband traveled the world on air craft carriers during his 30 year Naval Career. He honestly has more experience on and with the ocean than any average scientist. He has often times told me of incredibly huge whales and large squid, even birds of an extraordinary size flying over the Black Sea, in addition to many, many sightings of giant "bus size" has he explains it, sharks.  I doubt a man of his stature and rank would bother with "tall tales" he doesn't need those to impress anyone. I'm sure he saw what he saw.

MisterMaster
MisterMaster

Shark diversity is something huh, over 400  currently known species, It doesn't seem to me that the scientific community really can get a grip on the idea that they still have very limited knowledge when it comes to transient oceanic deep water predators, or for that matter, some funky little starfish that lives in an isolated trench in the middle of pacific. They seem to think an animal of such magnitude should have been caught or washed up by now. I disagree with the very premise of that assumption completely. The ocean is a big dark place. Its dangerous enough in itself, so lets consider. 1. The shark is hard to distinguish from a white shark other than size at adulthood, 2. A pup would be born looking like a 5 or 6 foot pointer, even an experienced ichthyologist would have difficulty discerning the settle differences.3. A large animal such as this would be solitary and maintain a fairly large comfort zone. They would have very low population densities. 4. They would have long lives, possibly making it to a century if conditions favored their nature. 5. They would be transient, following large prey migration routes and would hard to pick out other than by chance and would remain unproven. 6. People don't normally go to the twilight deep, Its not common practice, and when they do,they can see 20 to 40 feet with lights, I'm positive, at the depth they are at. The layer they are in goes for 100s of miles. The ant looking for the needle in they proverbial haystack, not to mention its cold and hostile, and who knows what is lurking down there. 7. If you hooked into a 40 foot+, 30 ton+ mackerel shark, would you be able to reel it in. 8. Sharks eat their dead, No shark liver lasts very long when another shark finds their corpse. 9. The skin of a shark of such size would be like miniature layered saw blades, A little thrashing and some gnashing with its massive denture would open most nets. They also by moving with whales, avoid nets, fishermen don't want to catch whales usually.10. If you saw a enormous animal swimming in the ocean, the first thing will almost always be, that's to big for a shark, probably a whale of some type. I can see that. So lets just say we have a descendent of the otodus, closely related to the pointer only larger, not an actual megalodon. I do believe they have passed, but a relative of parallel natural influences and characteristic evolutionary traits. Considering the ocean and its current make up. I have to denote the very probable idea that a shark species currently unknown to science occupies the apex predatory role in the ocean. Killer whales do not seem large enough, dispersed enough, or common enough to occupy the role, despite their pack behavior they are more of a threat to smaller mammals and fish than to a healthy herd of say humpbacks. Whites are also to small, even if they are maxing in the mid 20s, Neither would account for the evolutionary pressure that is pushing whale mass up. Its easy to see that a small group of very powerful individuals roam the depths. If I wanted to find one, I would look off the eastern shelf of South America, use a remote sub and tag along with the whale migration towards their winter breeding grounds. Oh and number 11. Chasing after a rare sea creature in a giant block of water is really expensive and hazardous. Not actually worth it unless you're a billionaire. 12. We all know what can happen when we decide to go fishing. The day ends with a sunburn, an empty cooler, and a what went wrong?

LisasCraftiques
LisasCraftiques

You can't believe anything on TV these days. It's sad really. There are so many suckers out there who believe these "documentaries". I mean weren't documentaries meant to be true? It's really wrong of the networks to produce this kind of deception.

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. 

ivanburgerking
ivanburgerking

@JaideKulyas 

Discovery Channel is a "non-fiction channel". Do you know what non-fiction means?

It means it shouldn't air fictions that you would see in CTV.


I suppose you would applause CNN if they air "Breaking Discovery: Aliens build Egypt Pyramid!", because it makes such "good story".


Then again, I guess you haven't been watching any news either, since you can't look for anything real without having a doctorate for that subject.


You are hopeless. Have fun watching this piece of trash.

arizona3737
arizona3737

@kfazio01 

Thank you.  The sea is vast and deep.  We have not discovered everything that is to be discovered.  Why many of us or even scientists want to shoot down this idea of a mega shark is ludicrous.  There's always a new species that is being discovered whether it's in the sea or by land.  No one person has seen everything or been everywhere on this earth to see everything that exists on earth.  Keep an open mind, people.

Worldsend
Worldsend

@maddinpig probably GTA liberal kids, they tend to believe everything they see and hear. No need to think about it.

drspod
drspod

@maddinpig 

A few years ago I was in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and I heard a father tell his kid there were no turtles in Ohio.

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".

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.