'Shark Week' Makes Life Tough for Researchers

The popular cable series perpetuates myths according to one expert

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Amazing to look at on television, sure, but in the water? Not likely around here.

    There’s something in the water: Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” has infiltrated TV screens across the nation.

    The televised feeding frenzy might deter some people from swimming in the ocean, but does gruesome footage of sharks ripping off limbs cause people to avoid local beaches? San Diego Lifeguard Lt. Andy Lerum said there’s no definitive way of telling if people are affected by it.

    Last summer, lifeguards performed extra patrols after multiple great white sharks were spotted off the coast near La Jolla. But beachgoers didn’t seem too fazed by the multiple sightings.

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    The leopard sharks are back.

    “It didn’t really have much impact on the number of people entering the water,” Lerum said.

    He said there have been a few shark sightings this year, but they haven’t closed any beaches. Instead, lifeguards alert swimmers of a sighting and keep a close eye on the water.

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    Divers say a small Great White Shark circled around them off La Jolla Cove on Thursday afternoon, according to lifeguards.

    Lerum said he thinks “Shark Week” serves an as opportunity for people to be more aware of their surroundings in the ocean.

    “If there are shark sightings, it doesn’t mean there are more sharks than normal,” he said. “We all know that sharks exist and they are out there even when people don’t see them. There are always sharks in the area.”

    People might continue surfing during “Shark Week,” but Dr. Chris Lowe from the Shark Lab at CSU Long Beach thinks the program might cause some paranoia.

    “It makes my job harder,” he said. “There’s a lot of conflicting information...from a scientific standpoint, it creates myths.”

    For example, “Shark Week” educators warn viewers to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk because sharks feed during those times. But Lowe said there’s no research that supports that correlation.

    “It can become difficult because there’s a lot of hype behind it,” he said.

    Lowe participated in a “Shark Week” segment that aired July 31 titled “Great White Invasion.” He researches infant great white sharks in Southern California and also tags sharks to study their behavior.

    While Lowe believes it’s great the program reaches out to a wide audience, he worries that people will take the more frightening aspects of the show seriously.

    “It becomes difficult sometimes to make sure the educational methods come through,” he said.  “There’s a good and a bad to it.”

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