Viewers have rallied around the Discovery Channel's Shark Week for decades over its unabashed love of science and its glorification of violent sea creatures. But this year's event, which kicked off last night with the documentary Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, may have committed a cardinal sin: lying to viewers about sharks.
The real megalodon was massive and could crush a car
It should be no hard work talking up the megalodon. It was a massive, 50-foot-long creature with a jaw capable of crushing an automobile. However, the ancient shark is known to have gone extinct around 2 million years ago, but Discovery instead presented the beast as an almost mythical creature that could still be alive today. According to Discovery's online poll, which was captured by Discover Magazine before being altered, the film succeeded in convincing nearly three-quarters of respondents that the long-extinct megalodon was still alive.
Discover Magazine tore the supposed documentary apart this morning, pointing out that its evidence was faked and that the scientists who appeared in it were only actors. Though the film was prefaced with a disclaimer that casually distanced all of its content from any major semblance of truth, the disclaimer itself flew by in small font over a quick five-seconds. Among the disclaimer were broad statements like: "Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of [a supposed megalodon] continue to this day."
"Remember when #SharkWeek was about science…?"
On Twitter, viewers who knew the truth have been quick to call Discovery out for the misleading film, with many comparing it to the fake documentary on mermaids that was aired earlier this year by Animal Planet. Actor Wil Wheaton bemoaned the entirety of Shark Week as having lost its value, remarking, "Remember when #SharkWeek was about science and biology and learning?" Others said that airing the fake documentary was "embarrassing" for the channel, with one person also comparing the film to a Sharknado prequel.
Though Discovery has been turning Shark Week into more and more of a pop-science event for some time now, it hasn't quite crossed this threshold in the past. Previous years have seen the Mythbusters tackling legends about sharks and unlikely events from the film Jaws. For next year's special, they may be able to look to Megalodon for more inspiration.