Shark Week Night 5: Could you survive a shipwreck?


At the halfway point of Shark Week 2018, the stakes get higher than ever as two divers try to survive in open water for two days.

Well played Shark Week. In a turn from the outright commercialism of celebrity cameos, Shark Week employed thinly-veiled commercialism on night five, capitalizing on our phenomenological fascination with watching people almost die.

Now, this method isn’t exactly new to Shark Week, but it reached its peak last night. Here’s a recap of what went down when two divers got them shipwrecked… on purpose.


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 13: Paul de Gelder exits the water following a swim at Balmoral Beach in Sydney Harbour on November 13, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Motivational speaker, author and Navy Reserve, Paul de Gelder, 36, lost both an arm and a leg when he was attacked by a male bull shark during an anti-terrorism exercise working as a Navy Clearance Diver with the Royal Australian Navy in Sydney Harbour in February 2009. De Gelder now travels Australia as a motivational speaker and shares his story to inspire others to overcome adversity. Paul is currently on location in South Australia monitoring the behaviour of Great White Sharks with scientists producing a documentary for Discovery Channel. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Featuring: Paul de Gelder, Australian Navy diver and shark attack survivor (pictured right); James Glancy, British Special Forces and Royal Marines (pictured below); Greg Skomal, shark expert; Edd Brooks, shark expert; Mike Hudson, medic team leader; Chris Bowles, paramedic

Military vets Paul and James served as guinea pigs in Shark Week’s most dangerous experiment yet: trying to survive in open water for two days after being shipwrecked. Yep, Shark Week literally exploded a yacht for science.

From a nearby boat, Greg and Edd conducted the experiment while Mike monitored the situation and, ultimately, made the call to pull Paul and James out after 43 hours.

The biggest threats Paul and James faced were oceanic white tip sharks. As I mentioned on night two, they have been known to attack shipwreck survivors.

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"The species is most notoriously cited in connection with the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a Navy ship sunk by the Japanese during World War II. Many of the sailors who survived the wreck were later attacked by what are believed to have been oceanic white tips."

The episode was interesting but also uncomfortable to watch. My main problem was that their findings weren’t even groundbreaking. They kept going on about how no one had ever observed the aftermath of a shipwreck before, especially the interactions between humans and sharks. That’s true. They made history, but do they really know anything now that they didn’t already know?

The sharks were more active and aggressive at night and it was harder for Paul and James to keep track of them, which isn’t surprising. The sharks relentlessly returned to the area, which matches the accounts of shipwreck survivors. Paul and James were exhausted and irritable and somewhat hypothermic — yeah, duh. Those were the takeaways from the experiment.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 10: Cpt James Glancy of the Royal Marines holds his Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) after it was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace on December 10, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by John Stillwell – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Additionally, the experiment was a simulation, not a real-life scenario. James and Paul both had on wetsuits, fins, and snorkles. The men even acknowledged that they probably couldn’t have survived without the gear.

Furthermore, they had a rope cage floating nearby that they retreated to at night. Granted, it wouldn’t necessarily have stopped an attack by a determined shark, and they did actually have a close call. However, it’s more protection than shipwreck survivors would normally have.

Additionally, both the cage and the camera buoy that James and Paul hung off during the day helped slow their energy loss. They didn’t sleep for two days to stay vigilant, so they were exhausted for sure. But as a former swimmer, I can attest to the fact that their energy would have been drained much quicker if they’d had to tread water.

To be fair, shipwreck survivors are often able to cling to debris or take refuge in an inflatable raft, but that’s entirely up to chance. For James and Paul, that element, at least, was controlled.

Bottom line: Shark Week’s experiment was flashy but not very substantive.

Tiger Shark Invasion

Featuring: Dr. Neil Hammerschlag; tiger shark specialist; Alex Hearn, local shark expert; Joe Romeiro, cinematographer

Apparently, tiger sharks have begun taking up residence in the Galapagos. While many shark species are native to the area, tigers are not. Neil, Alex, and Joe set to out to tag a tiger shark to find out what may be drawing them to the area.

The hilarious part is that 90% episode focused on them trying to find a tiger shark, let alone capture and tag one. They repeatedly chummed the water, and everything but a tiger appeared.

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After a few location changes, they settled on Santa Cruz Island, a known turtle nesting ground. While tigers have a reputation for eating almost they come across — license plates have been found their stomachs before — sea turtles are sadly one of their favorite prey items.

The location eventually turned out to be a goldmine. In an hour and a half, they managed to tag, measure and ultrasound three female tiger sharks. They determined that at least one of the sharks was pregnant, which supported their theory that tigers may be using the Galapagos as a nursery.

The isolated collection of islands is not threatened by overfishing, and the islands themselves may provide a sheltered environment in which juveniles tigers can survive.