Despite being creatures that predate dinosaurs, we don't really know a whole lot about sharks—well, except that they'll eat us if we give them the chance. We have the 1975 thriller Jaws and all its gory successors partly to blame for this, depicting sharks PLAINLY as bloodthirsty underwater killing machines.
That is where Shark Week executive producer, director, underwater cinematographer, editor, writer, and on-camera expert Jeff Kurr comes in.
Jeff had not just been responsible for 35 action-packed episodes since 1991 (including five of its 10 highest rated episodes) but also for dishing out the real deal on these oft-misunderstood species.
And with Shark Week posting record-high ratings recently—particularly last year in the Philippines—Jeff is quite pleased with their show's positive effect to the public's overall "shark awareness."
"I think that Shark Week has actually gone a long way towards making sharks the most popular wild animal in the world... (And) a popular animal is one that people are going to want to protect and conserve, and they (sharks) definitely need our help," he tells FHM and other select media during a recent conference call.
So expect a shark-load of content in the future from one of the longest-running and most anticipated TV events as Shark Week returns to Discovery Channel today at 9 p.m, with the episode, "Island of the Mega Shark"!
Read below for more on our shark-tastic chat with Jeff!
What are your thoughts on how the media, and films and TV shows portray sharks?
Well, I think in a lot of cases, the news media, over-sensationalizes shark attacks. And if you consider the amounts of shark attacks that there are, they’re so rare, in fact I heard an interesting quote today that you're more likely to be killed by a champagne bottle cork than a shark. But you know, every time there is a shark attack, it makes headlines and people panic.
I don’t know how to change that. I don’t know if you can change that, because the news has to report these things. But I think just hearing about a few shark attacks makes people think that sharks are not friendly and they’re (people) in danger.
But that's not really the case. So when you do hear these reports in the media about shark attacks, you have to take it like a grain of salt and understand that, even though they sometimes happen in groups, it is still extremely rare.
Could you name some misconceptions about sharks and how you think people have come to those?
When they watch shark movies and shark documentaries on TV, I think they (assume) the shark is constantly eating. And that has to do with the fact that you need bait to bring sharks close to you.
But I found out that sharks are somewhat picky eaters, surprisingly. It depends on the species that you are talking about. A lot of times they seem to have little interest in feeding. It almost seems as though they have something else to do, and they're not interested in our bait.
So, they’re not what I call eating machines, people think that they eat and eat and eat, and then they (regurgitate) and they keep eating. I found out early on that they are definitely not these eating machines.
And I think people also think sharks are like regular fish that maybe aren’t that intelligent and don’t learn and remember things. But I (found out)—and research backs this up—that sharks are actually extremely intelligent. They remember things, (and) they have incredible senses. So they're not, you know, to say book smart like a person is, but they are in many ways smarter than us in the way that they just master their environment.
What is it like to be very close to these sea predators?
Well, it’s difficult to put into words (what's it like) to be close to a shark. But when you're close you start to understand how intelligent these animals are. And you can really get a feel that they've been around for so many millions of years.
They seem wise. When you look at a shark and you look at its eye, it seems like a very old creature, an old soul, if you will. They predate dinosaurs, they predate trees; sharks were here before we had trees on this planet. So, it’s just an incredible, mind-blowing experience to be face-to-face with a shark under water. Not really a fearful one, just more of an absolute fascination for me.
What are your guidelines during a shark shoot? The rules you follow to be safe?
I had a saying that I always use when it comes to sharks, it's not the shark that you see that you have to worry about, it’s the shark that you don’t see. And the reason why I say that is because if you talk to anyone who has been the unfortunate victim of a shark bite, in almost every case they never saw the shark coming. In fact, even after the shark bit them, they couldn't identify it and (thought) very little of the shark.
And that's because sharks are ambush predators. That’s how they ambush their normal prey.
So, when a person is bit, it's pretty much, in my view, an accident, a case of mistaken identity. And I don't want a shark to make that mistake with me. So, I try to really have my head on a swivel, so to speak. I'm looking in all directions, that way a shark can’t ever possibly ambush me.
What was the most remarkable shark moment you've witnessed or shot, ever?
Well, that's pretty easy. My Number One, all-time shark moment was the all-time, Number One moment of Shark Week for 28 years.
I was being pulled behind the boat in a tiny metal raft, which we call the seal sled, and I was towing a decoy behind me in that little raft. Suddenly, a 15-foot great white shark flies right on top of me! I basically looked up and saw this huge white belly over me, and it splashed back into the water, totally soaking me. It was the most incredible experience, to be that close to a breaching great white shark.
I was probably moving at 25 mph. I now know the feeling of what's it's like to have a shark coming after you. But it’s an amazing experience, and unforgettable one for me.
On a more personal note, if you didn’t become a shark program showrunner, what do you think would you be doing right now?
Good question. You know, probably something to do with what I’m doing right now; I’m actually sitting at a park at my son’s baseball practice. I love baseball and it probably (will have) something to do with baseball, I have a feeling.
Get ready for a shark-infested week every 9 p.m. with "Ninja Sharks" (Tuesday, July 14); "Return of the Great White Serial Killer" (Wednesday, July 15); "Bride of Jaws" (Thursday, July 16); "Tiburones: The Sharks of Cuba" (Friday, July 17); "Sharks of the Shadowland" (Saturday, July 18); and "Super Predator" (Sunday, July 19)!