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As 'Shark Week' becomes more sensational, a look at some misconceptions about sharks

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Shark fans, listen up. It's that time of the year again. Discovery Channel's Shark Week is back for a 35th year.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JASON MOMOA: I'm doing Shark Week.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some excitement there. The program was created to encourage conservation and correct misconceptions about sharks. It has profiled sharks that can walk on land.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ISLAND OF THE WALKING SHARKS")

FORREST GALANTE: This is the first time in history one of the Papuan species of epaulettes has been documented walking.

INSKEEP: And other species as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I always wanted to check out a frilled shark's mouth.

FADEL: But the show has also received its fair share of criticism. Gavin Naylor, a scientist who directs the University of Florida's shark research program, says it is using graphic, sensationalized footage in its portrayal of sharks.

GAVIN NAYLOR: The risk of being bitten by a shark is way overblown.

INSKEEP: His team maintains the International Shark Attack File, a database of all known shark attacks around the world.

NAYLOR: You're probably between 200 and 500 times more likely to drown than be bitten by a shark. You are certainly far more likely to get in a car wreck.

FADEL: Naylor says that while shark sightings have increased due to smartphones and drones, shark attacks have not.

NAYLOR: The number of bites that we've seen up to this point this year is not really different globally than it was the previous year or the years before that.

INSKEEP: He says sharks do not single out humans for attack. They bite first. They think later, if at all.

NAYLOR: They don't do a very careful evaluation and decide, well, is this a food item? Is this going to be tasty? No. They're going to go hungry. Now, the chance of making a mistake is increased if lots of different conditions occur. Let's say there's been a lot of dead fish in the water or blood in the water. They might be more prone to make a rash decision and bite something that they wouldn't normally bite.

FADEL: If you're an avid surfer or spend a lot of time in the water and the ocean, your risk isn't zero.

NAYLOR: Every activity that humans indulge in has a risk associated with it, and different personality types choose how they want to deploy that risk.

INSKEEP: But if you're not willing to take that very small risk, you can still watch sharks on TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.