‘Shark Week’ Criticized For Too Many White Experts, Mispresenting Sharks

The Washington Post published a report Monday slamming Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” programming for featuring too many White males as shark experts and continuing to peddle “negative messages” about sharks.

The report highlighted a study done by the Public Library of Science led by social justice activists and Allegheny College biology professor Lisa Whitenack. The project complained that “Discovery’s programming emphasized negative messages about sharks, lacked useful messaging about shark conservation, and overwhelmingly featured White men as experts — including several with the same name.”

In the article, Whitenack said she “loved sharks as a kid” and watched “Shark Week” every summer, but her opinion soured as an adult when she considered the lack of  “equity” and the treatment of animals in the series.

‘When the scientists appeared on her TV screen, she rarely saw any women she could look up to.” Thinking about that later in life, she lamented, “I don’t come from a family of scientists. I didn’t see very many people that looked like me on television.”

As an adult, Whitenack decided to explore these “misconceptions” – as the Post characterized them. The piece claimed, “When the pandemic lockdowns came in 2020, she saw an opportunity to study the source of her old misconceptions. Was ‘Shark Week’ feeding audiences the wrong messages about sharks — and who studies them?”

This question prompted Whitenack’s study. The report stated, “Whitenack led a team of researchers to examine hundreds of ‘Shark Week’ episodes that aired between 1988 and 2020.”

In addition to the study revealing the programming’s negative depiction of sharks, it “featured more White experts and commentators named ‘Mike’ than women,” noted Arizona State University conservationist David Shiffman, the study’s co-author.

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Shiffman implied that this may be due to discrimination on the part of Discovery Channel. He said, “When there are hundreds of people of color interested who work in this field and when my field is more than half women, maybe it’s not an accident anymore that they’re only featuring White men.”


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