Reality AF: Shark Week Expert Gets Real About Sharks + What to Watch This WeekPhoto Courtesy of Discovery TV Features
Editor’s Note: Welcome to our new column, Reality AF. Every Monday, Terry Terrones will check in and talk about the state of reality TV, plus provide a Top 5 list of what’s coming up this week that you should not miss.
The Discovery Channel’s Shark Week returned for its 34th year on Sunday. This year’s iteration features 25 hours of new programming, the event’s first ever Master of Ceremonies (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), and some outrageously named episodes.
I’m not sure if “Mechashark Love Down Under” is a new dating series or if “Air Jaws: Top Guns” is a sequel to Top Gun: Maverick but their titles alone are certainly attention-getters.
While always a spectacle, Shark Week is also a fun way to learn about some of our planet’s most fascinating creatures. To help further facilitate that goal, I reached out to wildlife biologist and shark expert Forrest Galante, the host of Discovery’s Mysterious Creatures and Animal Planet’s Extinct or Alive.
Galante is hosting two Shark Week programs this week, including one on sharks that walk. No joke! Here’s our conversation:
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about sharks?
I’d have to say the stereotypical cliche that they’re out to get humans. In reality, we’re the ones encroaching on their world. Almost all shark attacks are a byproduct of the shark confusing humans for their prey, like seals, sea turtles, etc.
What’s something about sharks you wish the general public knew?
A paper published by Dr. David Gruber and his colleagues just a few years ago found that some deep sea species of sharks may use biofluorescence to communicate with each other. I hope the public can latch on to the fact that we still have so much to learn about sharks. Sharks have been evolving for over 450 million years, and we’re still learning intricate details about each species’ biology. That was a major part of our new show premiering this week.
What’s your favorite type of shark to encounter in the wild?
It’s tough to decide on a favorite. Each species has its own distinct behavior that makes it remarkable in its own right. But if I had to decide, while we were shooting in Papua New Guinea we came upon a Tasseled Wobbegong which was unbelievable. If you haven’t seen a picture of these animals I suggest you track one down. They have such a bizarre and striking appearance, some kind of living rock with a seaweed face. Truly, it was a once in a lifetime encounter.
If someone is snorkeling or scuba diving and comes across a shark, what’s the best way to handle the situation?
Remain level-headed and do not turn your back to the shark. When I’m in the water with sharks I do my best to make eye contact and let them know I am not a source of prey. Sharks are pretty wary themselves and if you exude confidence in the water they’ll pick up on that quickly. That said, if you see a shark, and you’re not wanting any kind of interaction, stay calm and slowly exit the water while maintaining eye contact with the animal.
Are there benefits to an event like Shark Week or is it just promotional?
There are definitely positive outcomes from Shark Week. It puts sharks on a massive, global platform, speaking about their amazing abilities and power. Our special premiering this Shark Week and others featuring friends and colleagues of mine showcase real, authentic science and groundbreaking discoveries for our understanding of sharks.
What’s the most important issue when it comes to shark conservation?
There are many, so it’s difficult to overshadow other key issues. But in my opinion illegal, unreported, and undocumented fishing practices remain the most dangerous to longterm shark conservation. While there are tons of MPAs where commercial and large-scale fishing practices are banned, many ocean regions in the high seas and in remote places are basically free for all for massive factory fishing vessels. They’ll come into an area and completely decimate the shark populations.
What’s your most memorable encounter with a shark?
Witnessing a shark walk over land, hands down. My team and I traveled to Papua New Guinea for our newest special, with the goal of tracking down three species of epaulette sharks found in the area. Realistically, I was hoping we could find one, maybe two. We ended up tracking down all three species and the most memorable encounter was on one of our last nights when a leopard epaulette shark walked out of a tide pool and over exposed tidal rock habitat. It was something I’ll never forget.
You have two episodes being featured during Shark Week. What can we expect in each?
“Island of the Walking Sharks” showcases one of the most biodiverse ocean regions in the world. We took a science-based approach to collecting data on the critically understudied epaulette sharks of the region, and witnessed some groundbreaking behavior. “Jaws of Alaska,” which we filmed a few years ago, was one of the hardest but most rewarding expeditions of my career. We dove the arctic waters of Alaska and encountered and filmed some incredibly rare species of shark exhibiting fascinating behaviors.
What made you interested in wildlife biology?
Growing up in Zimbabwe I had no choice but to explore the surrounding environment. Over time I became enamored with how each species made its living, how it survived day to day, how its biology and ecology factored into the ecosystem as a whole. In my formative years in California I was shown an entire new world underwater. I saw wildlife biology as a way to better understand the places and species that I was so obsessed with. Of course it was a perfect fit.
What’s your favorite fictional movie about sharks?
There are a lot of bad ones. Jaws is a classic, but of course it unintentionally created a stigma surrounding sharks that remains an issue to this day. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a fun one but it’s less focused on sharks, although there are a few beautiful scenes. Wes Anderson’s style of stop-motion animation was a really unique way of showing sharks and the underwater world in film, which I love.
Shark Week runs through July 30 on Discovery and Discovery+.
5 Reality Shows to Watch This Week
1. Below Deck Mediterranean (Bravo, July 25)
Why you should watch it: I watch this series religiously so I’d recommend it anyway, but check out this episode description: “Two yachties must confront their complicated past as Natalya pressures them about the status of their relationship.” This is a reference to chef Dave and chief stew Natasha, who worked together before joining the show and are now doing a terrible job of pretending they weren’t previously hooking up. Eww, scandalous!
2. BBQ USA (Food Network, July 25)
Why you should watch it: This fun BBQ series hits the midway point of its short six episode first season tonight. This week host Michael Symon heads to Texas to check out Cedar Fest, where teams compete to make the best ribs, chicken, pork, and brisket. Cue the Homer Simpson drooling GIF.
3. Extinct or Alive: Jaws of Alaska (Discovery, July 26)
Why you should watch it: International wildlife biologist Forrest Galante (We know that guy!) travels the world in search of rare and elusive wildlife, including those lost to science and mysterious cold-water sharks.
4. Island of Walking Sharks (Discovery, July 27)
Why you should watch it: Friend of the RAF column Forrest Galante travels to Papua New Guinea to prove that sharks are evolving to walk on land. I’ve seen a clip from this episode. It’s nuts!
5. Me or the Menu (Food Network, July 28)
Why you should watch it: The front runner for next week’s RAF feature is this program that focuses on four couples from around the country chasing their dreams of opening their first restaurant. I’ve highlighted it when it first premiered but after four episodes, I’m hooked as it definitively proves that chefs are THE WORST.
Terry Terrones is a Television Critics Association and Critics Choice Association member, licensed drone pilot, and aspiring hand model. When he’s not applying for Survivor, you can find him hiking in the mountains of Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @terryterrones.
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