Shark Week Night Four: The Secret Life of Sharks


On night four, Shark Week offered a look at the secret life of bull sharks and hammerheads in the Bahamas and great whites in New Zealand.

For the first time in Shark Week history, viewers got back-to-back new episodes of Air Jaws as Chris Fallows and his team left South Africa for New Zealand. In another first, the judges of ABC’s hit reality series Shark Tank became contestants as they pitched shark conservations initiatives to one another. Greg Skomal and his team also made history when they filmed 17 hours in the life of a bull shark. Here’s a recap of what went down.

SharkCam Stakeout

Featuring: Greg Skomal, shark expert; Amy Kukulya, robotics engineer; Roger Stokey, robotics engineer; Dr. Samuel Gruber, shark expert; Tristan Guttridge, a marine biologist

One of my favorite parts of Shark Week is watching scientists assume they know how sharks are going to behave and then watching them be completely wrong. We saw that a lot in night three’s “Laws of Jaws” where experts tried to predict how sharks would react to human behavior.

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In “SharkCam Stakeout,” Greg Skomal led a team down to the Bahamas in the hopes of tracking a bull shark and a great hammerhead. They went in February because like birds many sharks actually migrate south for the winter.

They successfully tagged a female bull shark, who they named Buffy. A more accurate name would’ve been Buffy: The SharkCam Slayer. SharkCam is a robotic submarine camera developed by Amy Kukulya and Roger Stockey. It hones in the acoustic signals given by off the shark’s tag and then follows the shark up close in a way scientists can’t.

Completely shocking the team, Buffy left the shallow reef off the shore for open water and traveled more than 300 feet below the surface. Bulls have always been observed near shorelines and even in freshwater rivers. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

The team theorized that she may have been going out into the Gulf Stream for better hunting opportunities, but they couldn’t be sure. SharkCam wasn’t able to go more than 300 feet below because it hadn’t been designed to withstand the increased pressure. Buffy: 1, SharkCam: 0

Buffy swam back up into SharkCam range once night fell. Rather quickly, she circled back and attacked the robot, repeatedly ramming it and biting it once. Greg theorized that she wasn’t trying to kill it, per se, but rather displaying territorial aggression.  Buffy: 2, SharkCam: 0

SharkCam survived the encounter, but Buffy managed to escape it once again a little while later. She rapidly ascended to the surface from 250 feet below in under than 30 seconds. The team figured she was hunting something, but SharkCam surfaced a whole two minutes later, so it didn’t capture any footage of what happened. Buffy: 3, SharkCam: 0

Buffy headed back down to the depths, and SharkCam’s battery subsequently died. Buffy: 4, SharkCam: 0

Next, the team tried to track a great hammerhead. Tristan managed to speargun tag a 12-footer, but impressively the shark rubbed the tag off, presumably against something on the sea floor, within minutes.

Unfortunately, they’d specifically sought out a great hammerhead because the species is endangered, so Greg was frustrated. However, he noted that capturing the animals for tagging stresses out them, so he wanted to avoid doing so.

The team decided to tag another bull, a female they named Hudson after their medic Mike Hudson. Hudson stayed in the shallower water, so SharkCam was able to observe her for a whole 17 hours. The team pulled an all-nighter to watch.

One of SharkCam’s most interesting findings was that sharks may sometimes glide, or cruise, in the water. They still move forward, but they’re not actively swimming. Eventually, like Buffy, Hudson circled back on SharkCam and attacked.

The team was subsequently forced to pull SharkCam out of the water due to an issue with its ground fault. According to Amy, they only other time that had happened to SharkCam on an expedition was after it had been attacked by a great white.

Photo Credit: Discovery Channel

Air Jaws: Back From the Dead

Featuring: Chris Fallows, shark expert; Jeff Kurr, Air Jaws filmmaker 

For the first time ever, Shark Week featured two “Air Jaws” specials. Following night three’s rather depressing installment about the current plight of South Africa’s great whites, this episode brought back all the classic Air Jaws feels.

To be fair, it was mostly a clip show of Air Jaws’ greatest hits over the years. But hey, it’s not like I’m going to complain about seeing a montage of epic great white breaches. Additionally, Chris and Jeff manage to make history in New Zealand.

No great white breaches had every been filmed, or even heard of, in Kiwi waters before, so they went to Edwards Island to see if they could make some magic happen. Towing a seal decoy behind their boat, Chris and Jeff managed to film two breaches.

As can be seen above, the first was especially epic with shark coming all the way vertical before submerging again. During the second breach, Chris was just feet from the shark on a custom “seal sled” that was being towed by the boat, like the seal decoy.

Curiously, the second shark didn’t let go of the decoy right away, even after it resubmerged. Great whites usually tend to let go quickly upon realizing it’s not an actual seal.

Shark Tank Meets Shark Week

Featuring: Daymond John; Barbara Corcoran; Kevin O’Leary; Mark Cuban; Robert Herjavec; Luke Tipple, marine biologist; Chris Schreiber, director at the Georgia Aquarium; Harry Weib, shark researcher; Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, shark researcher; Stefanie Brendl, founder of Shark Allies

For a while when I was growing up, I actually thought Shark Tank was a show about sharks. I’d see the name while channel surfing, get really excited, and then get bummed real fast. Time would pass, and I’d inevitably forget, triggering the cycle to start anew.

Eventually, I broke the cycle, and yet here we are. Maybe I secretly always knew Shark Tank would one day be about sharks.

In this special edition, business titans Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban teamed up with different non-profits to find out more about sharks. Then, they pitched to each other why their partner organization deserved to win the $50,000 prize.

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They couldn’t vote for themselves, and fellow Shark Tank businessman Robert Herjavec didn’t compete, allowing him to be the potential tie-breaker vote.

The episode was actually not as annoying as I’d expected it to be. There was a fair amount of pretentiousness and lame jokes. But it could’ve been worse, and it was evident that the “sharks” had come to care deeply about their causes.

The winner was Daymond, who had teamed up with the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary to push for standardized regulations for diving expeditions, benefiting both sharks and the tourism economy. Daymond also pledged to match the $50,000 prize.