Shark Week Culture

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It’s time for a confession. In addition to my passions for travel, culture, history, and journalism…lies a completely different interest. They’re known to some as ‘killing machines,’ they have scared people from entering the depths of the ocean, and they are highly misunderstood: sharks.

Their reputation labels them as vicious, dangerous creatures, yet there is much more to sharks. My fascination with them began in elementary school. Our teacher instructed us to give a presentation on any topic of our liking. At the time, my mom and I brainstormed ideas, and we concluded that sharks might be fun to explore. Off we went to the library to gather books, and even some educational DVDs. I couldn’t stop learning enough about them – their hunting patterns, their behaviors, and their interaction with mankind. As I revealed in an earlier post, I’d love the opportunity to see great whites. Maybe not from a cage (that’s risky even for someone utterly fascinated), but certainly from the safety of a boat in their natural habitat.

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You can imagine my (continued) excitement when I first watched Jaws. The film portrays the great white as a human hunter, but in reality, sharks often confuse humans with small animals. As predators, sharks sample a bite from prey and will only return if they like the taste. It is not surprising to hear of attacks on surfers (mistaken for seals or turtles), or ‘surprise’ attacks on swimmers who enter murky waters. Peter Benchley, author of Jaws, has written several other books about his encounters with sharks. In Shark Troublehe discusses types of sharks, water safety, and his own appreciation of them.

“The ocean is the only alien and potentially hostile environment on the planet into which we tend to venture without thinking about the animals that live there, how they behave, how they support themselves, and how they perceive us.” – Peter Benchley.

Unfortunately, humans pose more danger to sharks than vice versa. Wanted for their fins or for the thrill of the catch, thousands of sharks fall prey to fishermen. In some countries, shark fin soup even denotes a level of class, or social status. Learn more about shark protection initiatives here.


Earlier this summer, a shark attacked a man at Ballston Beach in Truro, Massachusetts. He survived after brief hospitalization. And who could forget the photo of the man chased by a shark while kayaking?

Photo credit: WBUR.


This week marks the Discovery Channel annual pop culture spectacle of Shark Week. The show first aired in 1987. Programming features “air jaws,” a glimpse at “How Jaws Has Changed the World,” shark attack videos, and much more. Plenty of people seem excited about it on Twitter and Facebook these days.

What do you think of sharks? Do you watch Shark Week or have you ever seen Jaws? How does one pop culture phenomenon translate in other cultures?

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