Shark Week, Marine Life’s PR Problem, and Ocean Conservation Efforts
Each summer, sensationalized newspaper headlines showcase the bloody jaws of Great White Sharks, ensnarled in a menacing attack. Headlines warn of nearshore attacks, limbs lost, and the dangers of swimming in waters seemingly teaming with the ferocious monsters. “Jaws” continues to frighten children and adults alike, and Google Images conjures up nightmares after simply searching the term in general. With ancient tales of record-setting shark sizes circulating throughout coastal communities, and urban legends of dozens of disappearing fishermen that never seem to dissipate, the sheer terror associated with the ocean’s larger wildlife seemingly drives societal norms.
With the continued booming successes of Discovery Channel’s annual “Shark Week” programming, it is safe to state that people love to fear sharks, killer whales, and the perceived dangers lurking just beyond the shoreline. Bringing relevance and adoration to the Discovery Channel, the famed “Shark Week” continues to provide the network with monetary gains, ratings increases, and something to look forward to annually. Glued to the television screen in hopes of carnage, fans of the themed programming are driven by the lusty gore of the spectacle created for their entertainment.
While shark attacks do occur globally throughout the trajectory of time, they are certainly not as prevalent as mass media portrays them to be. In fact, only roughly a dozen fatalities occur every decade as a result of shark attacks. In 2018, there was a worldwide total of sixty six confirmed shark attacks. Statistically speaking, in an individual’s lifetime, the individual in question is more likely to die from fireworks, lighting, drowning, or a car accident, than from being killed by a shark attack.
Why do sharks maintain the reputation as an entire species of cold-blooded, senseless, and merciless killers? Essentially, they have the worst public relations team working against them! Sharks, killer whales, and even dolphins, are often portrayed poorly within the media, sensationalized in order to sell stories, and developed as the villains in the life story of humans living alongside nature. While this portrayal may be appropriate for the general masses seeking some sort of antagonist in every situation, the misleading insight about marine life has undoubtedly contributed to devastatingly low conservation efforts, and a multitude of atrocities that have been overlooked on a global scale.
Philanthropy efforts play a role within the normal human experience, with penny boxes lining cash registers at local grocery stores, infomercials dedicated to various plights, and tax-deductible donations pledged daily. However, of the global philanthropic efforts, only roughly 2% of these efforts are directed toward environmental causes. Further, out of that small number, only a percentage of funds are dedicated toward ocean conservation efforts, maintenance of marine life and ecosystems, pollution reduction, sustainable fishing practices, and the education needed to abolish predatory hunting of sharks, whales, and dolphins.
Plagued by several real threats uniquely pertaining to ocean life, the world’s oceans require vast resources to overturn damage that has already wreaked havoc on the delicate ecosystems, and to prevent newly burgeoning damage from destroying the remaining ten percent of fish still thriving within this decade. Throughout the last fifty years, the world has experienced the disappearance of roughly half of all coral reefs. Roughly twenty million tons of plastic trash enter the ocean’s waters annually. Continuously rising temperatures continue to create adverse conditions for the life cycle of many species integral to the survival of ocean life.
These very real threats destroying the ocean’s fickle ecosystem, combined with the shark’s bad reputation, create an urgency for increased education efforts, fundraising, research, and conservation efforts. Adding to the poor reputation of many marine species, the concept of oceanic life being “mysterious” further alienates these creatures from being recognized by many individuals as being worthy of saving. By not having a sympathetic relationship with marine life, many individuals choose to pursue conservation efforts dedicated to animals with whom they feel a closer bond.
In the past, lack of technological advancement made it impossible to explore the depths of the oceans, limiting our general understanding about the complexities of underwater life. However, throughout the late 1970’s, the implementation of computers, and newly minted video technology within underwater explorations allowed for concise footage to become available for the general masses. With the advent of new technologies, and means of exploration within deeper oceanic crevices, the mystery behind oceanic wildlife began to lift, as people became more familiar with seeing footage of marine life interacting, existing, thriving, and behaving in ways that are familiar to the human condition.
In the same realm, the continuously developing technology that allowed for fruitful exploration efforts has worked in tandem with the continued advancements in media. Through striking imagery, modern biologists are able to deliver stunning photographs that elicit an emotional response from viewers. Combined with a powerful message, these images should work as a means of educating the general public, and act as their own marketing. With social media’s global prevalence in modern society, groups like the Discovery Channel, and SharkWeek can certainly utilize their already existing popular platforms to perpetuate conservation messaging.
With an estimated 3.2 billion active social media users globally, the sphere of influence on social media is more powerful than any previous marketing tools, including television, film, and print marketing. In essence, shared social media posts have the propensity for spearheading real change, whether in terms of education, or monetary contribution to a particular cause. While memes immortalizing the opening credits of “Jaws” are merely for entertainment purposes, attaching a message of shark conservation alongside the entertaining imagery could leverage an audience interested in learning more about the topic.
After years of leading the financial sector, I have made the conscious choice to pivot and dedicate additional time and energy to pursue his passion of ocean conservation.
Call of the Blue
As the Co-Producer of the aesthetically brilliant “Call Of The Blue” a book displaying Philip Hamilton pictures with brilliant narrative of Tom Hooper, I teamed up with over fifty scientists, biologists, and conservationists, creating a visually stunning anthology of deep sea exploration. Providing unique glimpses into the behavior of large marine life via up-close underwater photography by the famed Philip Hamilton, “Call Of The Blue” aimed to capture public attention via the photographs, coupled with information meant to inspire action. Unlike the terror created by Shark Week’s imagery, “Call Of The Blue” shares the majestic beauty of sharks, showcasing their crucial role within the ocean’s ecosystem. The book explores why sharks are the least protected ocean inhabitant, and works to dismantle misconceptions, biases, and the generally negative opinions formed about the varied types of sharks.
Due to the photo-heavy content of “Call Of The Blue”, the philanthropic book is the perfect vessel for implementing social media marketing not only for the book, but for the cause associated with “Call Of The Blue”. By leveraging the power of the imagery associated with the book, “Call Of The Blue” successfully utilizes social media, and modern multimedia platforms, to spread awareness of their cause. Highlighting the most devastating concerns for ocean life, the book is a wildly successful tool for educating the public in a meaningful manner.
Joining forces with Hamilton once more, in addition to a talented crew of industry leaders, I helped produce “Ocean Souls”, an emotional film that calls upon the humanization of whales, and dolphins. More details will be made public this coming fall. Ultimately, the film aims to diminish the worldwide acceptance of hunting for whales, dolphins, and all large ocean inhabitants, and aims to spread awareness regarding the importance of their existence. By shedding light on ways in which these animals are intelligent, intuitive, and more human-like than imagined, the team behind “Ocean Souls” intends on garnering empathy for the ocean giants, making them worthy of saving.
Much like “Call of The Blue”, the film utilizes modern technology to capture visual assets that transport viewers to the depths of the oceans, allowing the average individual to become encapsulated by the breadth of life under the deep cover of the ocean. “Ocean Souls” takes advantage of the natural beauty of ocean life by capturing magnificent creatures in their natural habitats, and displaying the myriad of colors on various multimedia platforms. As with “Call of The Blue”, the visuals of “Ocean Souls” are practically made for sharing on social media platforms, and digital streaming platforms. With a 2020 release date, “Ocean Souls” will aim to spread the conservation message through a large-scale reach on modern platforms, combining technology with philanthropy in a thoroughly modern, and effective manner.
Intellectually speaking, dolphins and whales rank only second to human intellect, with the largest brains of any living species. With intimate forms of communication, whales and dolphins utilize names for each member of their pod, and can easily pass the mirror test, showcasing their self-awareness, group mentality, and intricate communication skills. Displaying behavior that is so common to mankind’s own, and showcasing that similarity in “Ocean Souls”, remains a target motivator for the goal of garnering much needed empathy for these ocean giants.
Much like sharks, killer whales have developed a poor reputation. Though exploratory films, like “Blackfish”, have questioned the manner in which exquisite killer whales have been treated in the adventure-park industry, killer whales have experienced the same disconnect from sympathy throughout many communities. Though a fatal whale attack has never been documented in the wild, widespread misconceptions about whales’ rabid aggression continue to exist, further perpetuated by viral memes of the infamous Tilikum. Thus, it is the purpose of “Ocean Souls” to educate the public about the true docile nature of orcas, and dolphins alike.
For me, my involvement in these modern philanthropic efforts has been a continual effort, and I have desire to slow down. So much so that I’m currently in the process of becoming a non-executive board member at Uproar, the global media platform and community focused on inspiring action via powerful visual stories about the natural world. With the belief that audiences are not merely passive viewers, Uproar calls upon viewers’ motivation for participating in something bigger than themselves, and brings together the parties needed to successfully accomplish this mission. By providing opportunities to foster change, and drive impactful content, Uproar acts almost as a modern infomercial of the past, combining visual assets with a call to action. Focused on mobile platforms, Uproar utilizes modern media, technology, and social statistics to garner positive change in a streamlined manner.
Unique to the digitally driven world of the present, the team at Uproar utilizes expertise in the realm of social media marketing to effectively distribute content, increase engagement, and build a following for each dedicated conservation cause. In a highly collaborative manner, scientists work together with marketing professionals, in tandem with philanthropic leaders, to produce the most effective fundraising, and educational campaigns.
As Uproar continues to develop, the namesake Uproar Fund aims to garner fundraising for the purpose of providing opportunities for increasing conservation action through ongoing multimedia projects, and other modern solutions. Working with various philanthropic partners, the Uproar Fund provides the means for these dedicated partners to overcome various hurdles that inhibit their ability to reach their goals.
With technology rampantly connecting individuals from across the globe in ways never before deemed possible, there is a vast opportunity to leverage this newfound platform for good. As accessibility to worldwide audiences is now a reality on multiple media platforms, the ability to teach individuals about the importance of ocean conservation is more readily available than ever before, and the ability to shed light on torturous practices that swiftly destroy the delicate balance of the marine ecosystems is a gift that can raise global awareness.
Through advancements in technology, marine professionals can capture engaging content that will shed light on the intricate, intellectual, and emotionally driven interactions of fascinating underwater creatures, taking off the shrouds of mystery and misconception that have previously plagued the oceans. These forms of engaging content can then be shared in meaningful ways across social media platforms, streaming services, and other modern applications, creating impactful imagery, and a call to action. With synergy between the technology used for aesthetic content, and the technology used for social awareness, philanthropic efforts of all varieties can benefit from today’s digital atmosphere.
For sharks, orcas, and all other marine life plagued by a negative reputation, this is an opportunity to regain sympathy, and become truly worth saving in the eyes of the general masses. For me, this is an opportunity to combine my passion for successful conservation efforts, along with a true love of marine education. With the end goal of restoring balance to the fragile, and failing ocean ecosystems, philanthropists continue to search for meaningful ways to incite positive change.
As the weeklong bloodsport of “Shark Week” continues to dominate nature-based programming available on network television, there is hope that executives will follow suit, and recognize the negative implications of their condoning of misinformation, dramatization, and overall portrayal of marine life. Perhaps, through continued education, the general masses will avert their eyes from the negative programming, and instead, respond to beautifully created educational content, aimed at gaining further understanding of the world around us. One day, perhaps the existence of a weeklong celebration of ocean conservation will be touted as the most-watched nature programming experience, where facts will lead the way forward, and the importance of ocean conservation will amount to a substantial positive change for the dwindling populations of marine species.
To stay up-to-date on all my ocean conservation efforts visit my website here.