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Open Letter to Discovery Networks
By Jason Heller, July 19, 2007 @ 02:00 AM (EST)

Members of the International SHARK - L Discussion List have recently got together to write the following letter to Discovery Network regarding Shark Week programming.

If you feel that you agree with this letter and wish to add your name to the list of signatures, please click here.

Thank You.

From:
The International Shark Discussion List, SHARK -L

July 18th, 2007

To: The Discovery Network:
Mr. John Hendricks, Founder & Chairman, and
Mr. David Zaslav, President & CEO

Members of our Internet shark discussion forum, SHARK-L, have been asked by your marketing representatives to help promote your famous Shark Week sequence. This letter, signed by list members and friends, is our formal response to the request from your grass roots agency, New Media Strategies, for our support of the programming.

How can we support Discovery Channel when we are fighting for shark conservation, and its biggest obstacle is the monster image given to sharks by the media, including Shark Week programs? Further, some of us who have been directly involved in the production of your documentaries feel disgusted at the way that our interviews were censored and our words twisted around.

Our group is comprised of scientists, researchers, educators, media companies, and many NGO's, lobbyists and others. In aggregate we represent a strong network of influence that can help or hurt the efforts of any shark related programming or initiatives. In an age where media fragmentation is plaguing marketers and entertainment companies, we represent an outlet of opportunity for you.

We try to remain current regarding scientific findings on sharks, and we watch as many of Shark Week's documentaries as possible. However, as the years passed, we have become appalled by the failure of these documentaries to reflect modern scientific knowledge of sharks. We understand the need to drive "tune-in" and ratings to satisfy your obligations to your advertisers. However, it is our impression that the Discovery Channel's Shark Week is stooping to the level of tabloid journalism by casting sharks as the sea monsters that science was never able to find.

It's no secret that people love monsters, blood, teeth and frights. On Shark Week, that seems to be what you are offering them, even though this subject matter fails to reflect current scientific understanding of these unusual and important fish. For example, though there are about 500 known shark species, inhabiting a wide range of ecolological niches, your shows focus on the biggest top predators, especially the great white shark.

In recent years, conservation groups as well as individuals and scientists have become concerned to the point of alarm at the speed with which sharks have been depleted, mostly for the growing market for shark fin soup. It is estimated that roughly seventy-three million sharks a year are slaughtered, (though some estimates are as high as two hundred million), a plunder that has stripped the oceans of roughly ninety percent of the accessible species. Casting sharks in a negative light leads to increased devastation of the species that you feature, even if that is not your intention.

Apart from the waste and brutality involved in shark finning, the threat of extinction is such an important part of the reality sharks face, that we ask why you have not used your power to publicize it. It is your responsibility as a credible media company to portray the perilous situation sharks face, thus bolstering consumer awareness and action.

On the contrary, we know from personal experience that you take the trouble to clip information about the finning crisis from your sequences about sharks, deliberately concealing the facts of this oceanic catastrophe from your viewers, who innocently believe that you are presenting them with science.

Thus not only are sharks misrepresented as monsters when they are not, but the truth of the ecological crisis that has befallen them is left out. In using shark attack mania for profit, you are reinforcing the main obstacle to shark conservation. In projecting an air of scientific knowledge when you are presenting only tabloid journalism, you are wronging the animals you portray.

Your own words clearly express how you promote and prolong their "Mindless Man-eater" image, and contribute to an attitude that allows their mass slaughter with almost no public sympathy, nor protest:

"Ocean of Fear: Worst Shark Attack Ever"
"Deadly Stripes: Tiger Sharks"
"Top 5 Eaten Alive"
"Shark Feeding Frenzy"

We take issue with Ocean Conservancy as well, for allowing themselves to be associated with such a travesty.

In the 1970s, Peter Benchley's fictional best-seller, JAWS (which Steven Spielberg made into a blockbuster movie), dramatically increased our immemorial fear of sharks. By the 1980s, that fear had largely given way to curiosity, resulting in an unprecedented amount research on them. Thus, in the 1990s, as sharks became target species for Asian markets, scientific data were available to combat the new threat to sharks.

We are no longer in the 1970s, and the archaic perception of sharks you present belongs on the History Channel, not the Discovery Channel. Peter Benchley became a spokesman for sharks and an ardent shark conservationist. We suggest Discovery Channel follow his example and move Shark Week into the 21st Century.

We welcome and encourage an open dialogue with Discovery Networks in regard to the programming for next year's Shark Week. Let's work together to balance your ability to drive "tune-in," with your responsibility to create awareness of the global marine disaster created by the intense overfishing of sharks.

We can fully support your efforts, resulting in many niche media publications and websites, reaching millions of consumers, to influence people to tune in and watch. Some list members are involved in the media and marketing communities and are willing to work together with you to ensure the alignment of the goals of Discovery Networks, and the sustainability of these important apex predators.

We look forward to your response.

Very truly yours

1 Alex 'Sharkman' Buttigieg
Sharkman's World Organization
Malta

2 Ila France Porcher
shark /cognitive ethologist
French Polynesia

3 Ron & Valerie Taylor,
Australia.

4 Wolfgang Leander
Oceanic Dreams
Bolivia

5 Marie Levine
Executive Director,
Shark Research Institute
United States

6 Jason Heller
DivePhotoGuide.com
Founder & CEO
United States

7 John K. Luedeman
Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences and Education
Clemson University
United States

8 Glenn Ashton
Director
Ekogaia Foundation
South Africa

9 Geert Droppers
Protect the Sharks Foundation
The Netherlands

10 Sean R. Van Sommeran
Executive Director/CEO
The Pelagic Shark Research Foundation
United States

11 Michelle Clay
President - Creative Home Educators
United States

12 Chris Wise
QA Engineer
United States

13 Arthur Masloski
United States

14 Gennadyi Gurman
Queens Botanical Garden
United States

15 Sophie Peake
United States

16 Dean Crawford
Associate Professor of English
Vassar College
Author of forthcoming Shark,
Reaktion Books
England

17 Robin Culler
Physical Therapy Rehab Tech
United States

18 Steve Fox
Deep Blue Resort
owner-Utila Whale Shark Research
Honduras

19 Jason J. Honcoop
United States

20 Cheryl Black
Edison College
United States

21 Rudy Socha
CEO, WildlifeGifts
United States

22 Marilyn Kazmers
SharkSong Photography
Michigan, USA

23 Maris Kazmers
SharkSong Photography
Michigan, USA

24 Patrick Robert Makenen,
United States

25 Roxana Laura Garcia Liotta,
Shark Conservation Program Director,
Argentina

26 Uwe Duerr
Germany

27 Gregory Burris
United States of America

28 Dr. Gilles Cuny
The Natural History Museum of Denmark
Denmark

29 Josef Baron Kerckerinck zur Borg
United States and Germany

30 Charlott Stenberg
Marine biologist
Sweden

31 Christine Gstoettner
Vice President, Sharkproject
Germany

32 Jason (Jay) Treberg, Ph.D.
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Canada

33 Jean-François Avenier (France)
Shark Information Office owner
Writer & Photographer,
South Africa

34 Maia Campbell
University of Minnesota
United States

35 Barbara Wueringer
The University of Queensland
Australia

36 Jeff Kell
University of Tennessee
United States

37 Fernando Martins
PADI Brasilian Distribution Office
Brasil

38 Naftali BLAU
Israel

39 Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch
The Shark Trust
United Kingdom

40 Kenneth Debono
Malta

41 Ralf Laumann,
United Kingdom

42 Ian Hulland
Malta

43 Mario Gauci,
Malta

44 Sarah Gauci,
Malta

45 Shaun Arrigo
Malta

46 Claudio "Dino" Galetovic
England

47 Douglas Herdson,
United Kingdom

48 Deborah Price
England

49 Vivien Matson-Larkin,
Australia

50 Gerald Jennings
Director,
The Calypso Organization

51 Jorge Manzanilla
United States

52 Eelco Scheer
The Netherlands

53 Rob Lawrence
African Shark Eco-Charters.
South Africa

54 Karen Lawrence
African Shark Eco-Charters.
South Africa

55 Christopher Sowden
England

56 Abigail Borg
Malta

57 Terry Carnell
United Kingdom,

58 Gary Adkison
Director
Shark Foundation
United States

59 Brenda Adkison
Director
Shark Foundation
United States

60 Barbara Taylor
United States

61 Lilo Burda
United States

62 Ginger Gibson
United States

63 Carlos Dominguez MD
Mexico

64 Sharkie Zartman
author of Shark Sense,
United States

65 Jeff Pursley,
United States

66 Arrigo Borg
Malta

67 Reta Pruitt
United States

68 Kirsten Grish
United States

69 David Watson
United Kingdom

70 Brandy Faulkner,
United States

71 Ed Jongbloed
Netherlands

72 Shaun Graham,
United Kingdom

73 Lloyd Pinniger,
United Kingdom

74 Rafael Cohen,
United States

75 Julie Andersen
United States

76 Janet Murphy
United States

77 Jamie Pollack
United States

78 Sacha Simon
United States

79 Drury Thorp
United States

80 Ali Macdonald
University of Aberdeen
Scotland

81 Regina Magno-Judd
United States

82 Franck Porcher, PhD,
CEO, Smart Technologies,
French Polynesia

83 Markita Savage
United States

84 Dr. Brian W. Darvell
The University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong

85 David McGuire, Producer
Trillium Films
United States

86 Felix Leander
Oceanic Dreams
United States

87 Alex Bartoli
Biologist
Spain

88 Rita Vella
Malta

89 Lynn Kirk
Animal Health Technician
Canada

90 Richard Lloyd BVSc MSc MRCVS-
Aquatic Veterinarian,
England

91 Carolyn Perry
United States

92 Charles Hudson
United States

93 Karen Schanzle
Marine Biology
NOVA Southeastern University
United States

94 Alexandra Barron
ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research
Republic of Maldives

95 Jackie Ransley
Malta

96 Christopher Brown
UK

97 Alison Brown
United Kingdom

98 Patricia Stafford
United States

99 Rozenn Trepos
University of Aberdeen
Scotland

100 Chris Fallows
South Africa

101 Monique Fallows
South Africa

102 Dawn Stock Geneseo
United States

103 Andrea Lynne Tinney,
United States of America

104 Kris Custer
Denver, CO
United States

105 Scott Sledge
Australia

106 Heike Zidowitz
German Elasmobranch Society
Germany

107 Dr. Esther Wullschleger Schättin,
Zoologist and freelance journalist,
Switzerland

108 Neil Hammerschlag
University of Miami
Marine Biology & Fisheries
United States

109 Jaime Samour MVZ, PhD, Dip ECAMS
Director, Wildlife Division
United Arab Emirates

110 Stan Waterman,
President of the Shark Research Institute,
United States

111 Carl Bodenstein
United States

112 Fern Holland
Australia

113 Mark Enriquez
San Gwann
Malta

114 Ainhoa Bressers
Honduras

115 Matt Awty,
Honduras

116 Diane Famiglietti
United States

117 Jeffrey Brooks,
United Kingdom

118 Andy Phillips
Honduras

119 Kris Murphy
United States

120 Brett Murray
Fisheries Policy Officer
Australia

121 Dennis Ray Schneider, Ph.D.
United States

122 Jessica Cortright
United States

123 Jo Northey
Australia

124 Denise Boggs, Executive Director,
Conservation Congress
United States

125 Dan Cain,
United Kingdom

126 David Johnson
Thailand

127 Christine Dudgeon
PhD Student
University of Queensland
Australia

128 Roger Horrocks
Photographer

129 James M. Lynd
Canada

130 Chris Milnes
Founder/Designer, Dorsal (Shark Awear)
United Kingdom

131 Michele Mooney
United States

132 Todd Jennings
United States

133 Markus Thiele
Germany

134 Saskia Fischer
Germany

135 Twyla Douaire
Canada

136 Kevin Grout
England

137 Judie Clee
Bermuda.

138 Mark Graf
nature photographer
United States

139 Laura Lee Scott,
United States

140 Barbara Dowdeswell,
United Kingdom

141 Alec Connah
UK

142 Ines Elias
Argentina

143 Andrew Currie
England

144 Jim Wharton
Marine Science Educator
United States

145 Ellice Snyder
Shark Enthusiast for 20 Years
United States

146 Jorge Ramirez Gonzalez
Mexico

147 Jeffrey Thompson,
USA

148 Linda Elliott
President
HAWAII WILDLIFE CENTER
United States

149 Chantal Fechter
Germany

150 Oliver Stockmann
Germany

151 Simoun Yumol

152 Stefan Sarin,
Singapore

153 Peter Marck
Underwater Education & Training Center,
USA

154 Carlos Roberto Hasbun,
San Salvador,
El Salvador

155 Midge Hartley

156 Ashton Phillips Griffin
Georgia
United States

157 Dr Paul de Bruyn
Fisheries Scientist
Durban
SOUTH AFRICA

158 Rob Allen
Shark Safaris
UK

159 Dr. Juergen Kriwet
Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
Germany

160 Ben Speers-Roesch
Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia
Vancouver, Canada

161 Rima Jabado,
Lebanon

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