This year’s coronavirus pandemic has forced many folks to stay put. Animals, however, didn’t get the stay-at-home memo. Now scientists have a rare opportunity to study at least one scary sea-faring creature: the shark.
During the quarantine lull—without fishing boats, beachgoers, or other interruptions—ocean waters saw increased and unusual marine life behavior.
“Just the general decibel level of the oceans quieted down significantly” for the noise- and vibration-sensitive sharks, Discovery Channel’s Howard Swartz says. “It really was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study these sharks without the impacts of human activity.”
Discovery Channel took advantage of the peaceful window for its 32nd annual Shark Week. The shows began Sunday and will air for eight days. The channel taped two shows during the pandemic lockdowns.
“Sharks are the stars of Shark Week. The great whites are the stars of the sharks,” Swartz says. “They’re so captivating, and they’re so beloved and interesting and, I think, mysterious to viewers.”
The Discovery program explores the Foveaux Strait, which separates New Zealand’s South and Stewart islands. The area is home to ultra-long female great whites. Those sharks are so long they’re called “747s,” after the famously long jetliner.
The episode “Shark Lockdown” is set in the strait. It studies the mystery of why females leave the area when they become large enough to bear young.
“They disappear and nobody’s really sure why they’re there and where they’ve gone,” says Swartz.
In “Abandoned Waters,” researchers observed great whites near Australia’s Neptune Islands minus the usual fishing and tourism traffic.
The team recorded the arrival of about three times the average number of female great whites mixing with males off the Neptune Islands.
Along with the scientists, local production crews scurried to take advantage of the quiet ocean before nearby nations began lifting restrictions on travel and business activity.
Researchers believe information gained from Shark Week filming could help protect the area for sharks into the future.
(A shark breaks through the water in a scene from “Shark Lockdown” during Shark Week 2020 on the Discovery Channel. Discovery Channel via AP)