Discovery Channel's Shark Week is generally considered the go-to source for all things shark-related. But since 2013, it has faced some stiff competition from National Geographic's SharkFest. The latter takes a much different approach to the type of programming it airs, and there are plenty of reasons to watch SharkFest over Shark Week. Both focus on majestic, maligned sea creatures, but SharkFest provides a more objective, all-encompassing approach to its subject.
The differences between these two shark-centric festivities come down to fact versus fiction. Shark Week gets a lot wrong about its subject, and tends to rely on the sensational rather than the scientific. While it could be argued that any show that brings greater awareness to the plight of sharks is a good thing, truth plays an important role here. Take a deep dive into the details of why SharkFest is better than Shark Week.
Shark Week's programming often depends on shoddy science and misleading framing. Take the 2013 "documentary" Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. In it, a team of faux-experts commented on a massive, shark-like beast that supposedly prowls the world's oceans. There's just one problem: that particular creature went extinct millions of years ago.
Shark Week's handling of the subject confused many viewers. "It was presented in such a way that you could very easily watch it and not know it was fictional," shark expert David Shiffman said.
SharkFest, on the other hand, promises more scientifically grounded programming. Geoff Daniels, Nat Geo Wild's global executive vice president, said their program 700 Sharks is "the epitome of everything we stand for," since it looks "at shark behavior in a way we've never seen before."
It's no secret television shows – especially big, event-style programming like SharkFest and Shark Week – pull out all the stops to attract viewers. But when you're dealing with documentary subject matter, it helps to have the truth on your side.
Shark Week has drawn negative publicity for pseudoscience and misconstrued facts. Following its disastrous 2013 program on the megalodon, Shark Week doubled-down and released another megalodon special in 2014. Discovery Channel also made a whole documentary about Rooken, a made-up shark that supposedly swims the Louisiana bayous.
Shark Week draws some renowned names for its various documentaries. But some of these experts claim the show gets a little too creative in the editing room, creating factual discrepancies in the process.
Shark Week producers have also been accused of pushing their interview subjects to go to the extreme for ratings. "One of the guys was like, 'Oh, maybe you should just let it bite you, that would be so exciting,'" says marine biologist Jonathan Davis, who was interviewed for Voodoo Shark in 2015.
SharkFest is more of a tribute to sharks, while Shark Week often makes them into the bogeymen of the deep. Neither network shies away from portraying sharks as predators, but SharkFest's tactics are much more even-handed. Just look at the titles of some of the featured shows. SharkFest has Big Sharks Rule and Anatomy of a Shark Attack. Shark Week has Laws of Jaws, Air Jaws: Back from the Dead, and Alien Sharks.