A week ago, after we first learned that Michael Phelps was going to “race a great white shark” for Shark Week, I was left with more than a few questions. Did someone figure out how to keep a great white alive in captivity? (Spoiler alert: no.) How will they keep the shark in his own lane during the race? If the shark beats Phelps, does he get to keep and eat him as a prize?
Last night we learned the answers to all those questions and more. The race took place, but there was no shark. It was a CGI disaster. (Washington Post)
57 minutes into Discovery’s heavily-promoted Sunday night Shark Week program — in which Olympic powerhouse swimmer Michael Phelps was set to race against a great white shark — viewers heard this quote from ecologist Tristan Gutteridge, one the featured scientists:
“Clearly, we can’t put Michael in one lane and a white shark on the far lane. We’re gonna have to do a simulation.”
Hold on. So Phelps wasn’t going to actually race a shark in a TV event titled “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White”?! Why was the hour-long special billed as such?
All the tweets from outraged viewers compiled at that article make it worth the trip so feel free to indulge. But this entire debacle was far worse than just a few misleading advertisements. In fact, disingenuously promoting this “special” as a race between Phelps and a shark is at least somewhat understandable if not forgivable. They want to maximize their audience share and you need some enticing bait to get people tuning in. (Pun intended.) The WaPo article even leads off with the story of Discovery’s last great, hyped up flop when a guy was supposedly going to be swallowed alive by a giant snake on live television. (That didn’t happen either.) So following the old rule of fool me once, fool me twice, who’s fault is it that we were duped again?
But as I said, it gets worse. These are supposedly science shows which deliver at least some educational value for the audience in addition to excitement and exotic travel footage. But any interest in science seemed to be thrown out the window in the interest of staging this alleged shark race. First of all, they claimed that the best speed the great white shark could manage was 25 miles per hour underwater. That’s pretty darned fast to be sure, but if you check around with some other sources online you’ll find that marine biologists aren’t at all sure about that figure. Measuring the speed of a shark is extremely difficult because of the conditions under the water, the fact that they don’t swim in a straight line and you have no idea if they’re actually doing their top speed or not. They might be much faster in reality.
But fine. Let’s say that the shark can only do 25 mph. Over a one hundred yard course, the “shark” only beat Phelps by two seconds. How does that work? Even with a big, ridiculous looking swim fin on his feet, Phelps is only good for six or seven miles an hour and not for very long at that. The shark should have beaten him by a three or four to one margin.
I, for one, think we deserve a recount. This is a bridge too far. Michael Phelps should go back out on the boat with some of those marine biologists, chum the water until the place is alive with great whites and anchor another boat 100 yards away. Then they toss him in there with a bunch of raw tuna slathered all over his wet suit. If he makes it to the other boat he wins. If he doesn’t, the sharks win.
It’s only fair. Anything else is a victory for the cis-human patriarchy and completely unfair to the underrepresented community of sharks as well as any of you who identify as sharks.