Virus-quieted oceans open window for Shark Week researchers
LOS ANGELES (AP)
— The coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay put, but it gave
sharks a travel passport and scientists a rare opportunity.
spots cleared of fishing boats and other intrusions by COVID-19
quarantines saw increased and even unusual marine life behavior - and
Discovery Channel’s Shark Week jumped through hoops to capitalize on the
32nd annual slate of all things shark, airing for eight days beginning
Sunday with a record two-dozen shows, includes a pair taped earlier this
year during the lull.
really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study these sharks
without the impacts of human activity,” said Howard Swartz, Discovery’s
senior vice president for production and development.
not just any toothy species under scrutiny by the two programs, but the
one with a Steven Spielberg summer blockbuster on its resume.
are the stars of Shark Week. The great whites are the stars of the
sharks,” Swartz said. “They’re so captivating and they’re so beloved and
interesting and, I think, mysterious to viewers, rightly so.”
Lockdown” (10 p.m. EDT Sunday) is set in New Zealand-area waters that
are home to female great whites of such impressive length they’ve been
dubbed “the 747s,” after the famously long jetliner.
program features Kina Scollay, a founding member of New Zealand’s Great
White Shark Research Project and a familiar face to Shark Week viewers,
and Clarke Gayford, a broadcaster and the fiancé of New Zealand’s prime
minister, Jacinda Ardern.
exploration of the Foveaux Strait, which separates New Zealand’s South
and Stewart islands, brought them up against what Swartz called one of
the “Holy Grail” shark mysteries: why females leave the area when their
size indicates they’ve reached sexual maturity.
(Discovery via AP)
and nobody’s really sure why they’re there and where they’ve gone,” said
the journalism award-winning TV science producer (formerly with PBS’
Scollay and the team discovered was an unusual mix of male and female
sharks, with some of the latter carrying fresh mating gashes that are on
painful-looking display in the documentary.
suggested the area was a mating ground absent human activity, a
possibility that could lead to new safeguards for the great white
population, Swartz said.
similar revelation emerged in “Abandoned Waters” (8 p.m. EDT Monday),
in which researchers were able to closely observe great whites near
Australia’s Neptune Islands minus the usual fishing and tourism traffic.
the general decibel level of the oceans quieted down significantly” for
the noise- and vibration-sensitive sharks, Swartz said.
team recorded the arrival of about three times the average number of
female great whites mixing with males off the Neptune Islands, located
near the entrance to South Australia’s Spencer Gulf.
it’s premature to draw conclusions, the information could be part of
ongoing research and analysis that might help protect the area for
sharks, Swartz said.
with the scientists, local production crews scurried to take advantage
of the ocean solitude before those nations gained relative control of
the virus and began lifting restrictions on internal travel and business
said it was unaware of anyone involved in the productions testing
positive for the coronavirus. Strict protocols were in place to guard
against infections, Swartz said.
Then producers had to gear up to meet the challenge of a quick turnaround in just a few months.
Shark Week programs are usually made for the following year and have
eight to 12 months to be completed, the research and production teams
for the virus-related films had just three months.
A few other shows in this year’s line-up, all times Eastern:
“Air Jaws: Ultimate Breach Off” (8 p.m. Sunday). The 20th anniversary
of the show that uses decoys and drones to capture astounding shots of
great whites breaching and collect data on hunting techniques.
“Extinct or Alive: Land of the Lost Sharks” (8 p.m. Tuesday). Wildlife
biologist and conservationist Forrest Galante braves dangerous waters in
the southern hemisphere in a search for three sharks unseen by
scientists for as long as 100 years.
— “Will Smith: Off the Deep End” (9 p.m. Tuesday). The actor takes on his fear of open waters and sharks.
“Wicked Sharks” (9 p.m. Aug. 15). Amid great white encounters off
Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, shark expert Greg Skomal uses technology to
help learn their hunting habits to better protect the public.