Shark Week is an opportunity for shark lovers to learn more about incredible creatures via the power of science and storytelling. As one of the most popular marine documentary programs, Shark Week manages to pull in millions of fans who tune in from all over the world whenever it airs.
But over the years, Shark Week has come under fire for its programming choices, with many finding faults with its premium content.
Our list dives into the top ten shark week conspiracy theories that cause heated debates among scientists and viewers alike. For some, the theories are plausible, but to others, they are just a marketing flourish for various actors looking to cash in from the publicity that shark fins create.
Related: Top 10 Fascinating Facts And Stories About Sharks
10 Fake Shark Stories
In 2014, Shark Week aired Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, featuring a spooky tale about a shark called Submarine. Taking viewers to the wild shores of South Africa, the documentary narrated how a 30-foot (9-meter) white shark terrorized passengers after their boat sunk. While the story was gripping, it only had one mistake—but it was a big one. The story was based on a fictional occurrence featuring a mythical shark.
This was not the first time Shark Week featured a fake-u-mentary, but according to audiences, it was the most insensitive depiction to date. The events in the production were based on Hout Bay, a location where a boat ferrying capsized, leading to the death of two passengers. Trying to create a fictional story was one thing for viewers, but passing it off as an actual historical event was even more infuriating.
As it turns out, the story about Submarine was a fictionalized legend from the 1970s when journalists decided to play a prank on the public. Over the years, the shark was supposedly sighted across the ocean despite not existing in reality.
9 Rogue Sharks
National Geographic did a segment on rogue sharks and what could trigger a shark to attack. In 2018 in Australia, at the Whitsundays Islands, ocean goers were being attacked in formerly safe waters.
While rogue sharks are not common, bull sharks can be some of the most deadly when involved in a shark attack.
To study the sharks, scientists consider the human impact on the Whitsundays waters. With so much water activity, like boating, fishing, paddle boarding, etc., people were disposing of food waste by tossing scraps overboard and even baiting the water. Both practices are not allowed, but sharks soon learned this area was like a fast food drive-thru.
So sharks understood that when a person threw something from the boat, it more than likely meant dinner. But that also meant that when a swimmer jumped off a boat or fell off a paddleboard, they were being bitten immediately.
Most shark bites and attacks are cases of mistaken identity. This can be due to murky water conditions, a person’s resemblance to a mammal such as a sea lion, or their resemblance to food waste. Despite what Hollywood shows as vindictive or rogue sharks, attacks are rare.
8 Victims Stalked for Days
What would you do if you found yourself stranded in shark-infested waters? This question is explored in Shark Week’s 2019 show, Capsized: Blood in the Water. Like most Shark Week shows, the inspiration for the show was drawn from real-life events. But according to some circles, Shark Week is too obsessed with the sensationalized gritty aspects of the creatures while abandoning the science.
Blood in the Water focuses on the events surrounding a 1982 incident where a yacht crew found itself in the water after their boat capsized in a storm. A passenger who had sustained injuries was bleeding, and the blood drew the attention of tiger sharks. The predatory tiger sharks roamed the ship for five days, taking out one victim after another.
While the gritty events are entertaining for Shark Week audiences, not everyone is impressed with the production’s direction. Dr. Stephen Kaijura, a shark expert at Florida Atlantic University, told NBC News that it was disappointing that Shark Week focused on sensational aspects alone. He felt that the animals have diversity and carry a rich history of revolutionary interest. While these elements can offer more scientific information and knowledge, Shark Week focuses on catchy titles and themes.
For scientists and most viewers, Shark Week might only focus on sensational storytelling, ignoring the reality that it started as a scientific and educational program.
7 Shark Spies
In the movies, everyone can be a spy. Kids, senior adults, and even pets can be trained to complete various tasks in the service of a particular intelligence service. If you think you’ve seen everything, brace yourself for this conspiracy: Spy agencies can train sharks to “attack” humans.
In a controversial theory that made international headlines, bloody shark attacks in Egypt were blamed on the Israeli spy agency. The 2010 Sharm El Sheikh shark attacks, which led to the injury of Russian and Ukrainian tourists and the death of a German woman, were unprecedented. But after the attack, the narrative shifted, with some theorists blaming the shark attacks on the Mossad agency.
Conspiracy theorists claimed that Mossad used GPS tracking devices to guide sharks into Egyptian waters. With the historical tension between Egypt and Israel, the conspiracy theory had enough fodder to fuel it.
Before the attack, the two species of sharks that were implicated (the oceanic whitetip and mako shark) were commonly sighted, but attacks on humans were rare. In response to the attacks, the Egyptians declared an open season on sharks found in the nearby waters. By the end of the season, a mako and an oceanic whitetip were killed!
6 The Frilled Shark
Let’s go back about 80 million years when the frilled shark roamed the seas. With a long, thin body, these sharks swam around deep in the ocean; many believe that the shark survived and can still be found today at nearly half its original size. Yet, I would still give this shark a wide berth.
At its full size, the frilled shark has 25 rows of teeth, for a total of nearly 300 teeth. Additionally, the shark has six-gill slits on either side of its body to create a sucking action when attacking prey.
The Discovery Channel aired an episode titled The Frilled Shark during Shark Week in July 2021. They had captured a small frilled shark and were interested in studying the ancient shark. While the shark was fairly docile when threatened, it did try to attack.
Our encounters with such creatures are unlikely due to the depth at which they live. Frilled sharks enjoy swimming at nearly 4,921 feet (1,500 meters). And at those depths, you are likely to run into the famous Kraken. I think I’ll stay near the surface to avoid both creatures.
5 Sharks Avoid the Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle, also famously known as the Devil’s Triangle, is an urban legend of the Atlantic Ocean. Off the coast of Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda, the triangle has been blamed for the disappearance of hundreds of ships, suggesting the role of some out-of-world force. Now, some conspiracy theorists believe that sharks stay away from this black spot as a confirmation that there’s some sinister force at play.
The theory started with a TikTok user known as the Friendly Neighborhood Dogdude, who claimed that sharks avoid the area. Claiming that he used a shark tracking app, the social media theorist argued that the swim patterns reveal that the triangle exists and intelligent sharks avoid it. For many TikTok users, the evidence was proof that there was something in the water, proving the Bermuda Triangle theory valid.
While the theory appears legitimate, scientists explain the swimming patterns with a simple fact: Sharks swim into areas where there’s food. Sharks might not be going into the triangle because they don’t see any reason to do so. Also, sharks are known to migrate all the time, so how long did our TikTok sleuth track the sharks? Marine research usually takes months or years to conclude the facts, not a few days before major conclusions are made.
4 Are Dolphins Superior to Sharks?
Many of us have heard this theory, and some parts are true! Sharks tend to avoid dolphins when possible. For one, dolphins have a mix of flexible and rigid bodies, allowing them to evade or attack more easily. In comparison, sharks are pretty rigid, even if they attack with strength.
Let’s not forget a dolphin’s nose. Their nose can act as a battering ram in the case of an attack. Some dolphins even place themselves under a shark and swim quickly upward, plunging their hard nose into the soft belly of a shark. Talk about a sucker punch!
While this may not qualify as a Shark Week conspiracy, maybe dolphins need their own week on TV too.
3 Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives?
Shark Week is scientific, informative, and aired on the reputable Discovery Channel. But, when Shark Week aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives in 2013, it found itself in an uncomfortable position. The show had passed off a fictional production for a documentary, claiming that the now extinct megalodon had somehow made a comeback. In a world where fake news can sink even the most reputable organizations, Shark Week struggled to stay afloat.
In the 2013 episode, Shark Week brought the megalodon back to life, claiming that the marine megafauna was alive and terrorizing the open seas. The film featured multiple videos, photos, and firsthand encounters of scientists and witnesses that fabricated evidence of the shark’s existence. As an educational show, many felt that Shark Week had failed miserably and the public outrage that followed was proof.
To counter the negative reviews, Shark Week was forced to add disclaimers that the program was fictional. Yet, despite all the backlash from fans, Shark Week 2013 had great TV ratings. To date, it’s considered one of the most watched Shark Week shows, attracting close to five million viewers.
2 Have We Seen It All?
As our list winds down, you may be asking how, after 34 years, does Shark Week still have new content to release? Shark Week started in 1988 and shows no signs of extinction. Well, you could argue scientists learn something new every day. Or you could argue that it is all about the network’s money-making practices.
Either way, these YouTubers said it best, “We Saw Sharks Doing Sharky Things.”
1 “Baby Shark” Nation
The most popular shark of all is… “Baby Shark!” We had to throw in some humor after so much real-life shark stress. But did you know that even “Baby Shark”” has a conspiracy behind such a catchy tune?
The conspiracy follows that the song was created to amass a huge following. Families and kids across the world sing loyally along to the song. But with various versions, kids can be swayed to take action. Good and bad. I’m unsure how much ground this conspiracy holds, but I’ll let you decide.