Producers, film makers, divers and support crew fanned out across the waters off the southwest coast of New Providence recently, shooting footage for Shark Week that will air the second week in July captivating viewers in up to 88 million homes and multiple platforms in 224 countries. The episode shot in The Bahamas featuring local divers and marine scientists like Dr. Austin Gallagher (Beneath the Waves) will air on the Discovery Channel July 13. Headlined “The Science of Sound” it explores sharks’ reactions to the sound of music, country music in particular, thanks to the picking, plunking, playing and familiar voice of country superstar Brad Paisley who added star power to what is likely to be cone of the most watched TV shows of the year.
Paisley played live on the dive boat, with his recordings lowered by divers through underwater sonar equipment and moved with them as they swam and interacted with dozens of curious nurse and reef sharks. A diver himself, the singer-songwriter spent two days experiencing the deep with local divers like Kareem Bethell and Tyson Smith.
Stuart Cove Dive provided vessels and dive gear. And every minute was filled with action. Two cameras topside, two below. Drones. For every diver, a buddy, for every producer, a back-up with a different set of eyes. Audio. Standby medical, head of emergency room operations at a major health system with his 80-lb case of everything that matters right down to a watch-size scanner capable of following the movements of internal parts. The budget for the single episode — whopping and undisclosed.
But consider this: Local divers, dive boats, nearly a week of filming, executive and line producers from as far away as L.A. who also do NatGeo, Netflix, the History Channel, HGTV and the Food Network. The goal – to shoot 100% of the episode, all 43 minutes, 20 seconds of non-advertising footage, right there, where we are today off New Providence and near where they have been all week. The result: Nearly perfect, they got 98%.
“It’s a great place to shoot,” a producer tells me. “It’s safe, it’s easy to get to not like some of the places we have to do that are far out from land over fairly treacherous seas, and celebrities love it here.” When it comes to what it takes to make Shark Week filming work, Stuart Cove is up to the task, running back and forth to deliver another diver, a different camera, to take someone off the vessel who has to get to the airport. You’d think the half hour run out to the deep would get old, but it never does. “We have been working with Shark Week every year since the first episode was filmed in The Bahamas in 1988. And every year I think what can Discovery Channel do to top this and the next year they come up with something even more interesting or scientifically important,” says Cove, who founded and operates the country’s largest world-renowned dive business. This year, he had an additional hand, his son, Travis, a diver turned actor who doubled for another in the show.
Cove, a director of Save The Bays and active in coral reef preservation, believes Shark Week has helped sensitize the public to the value of sharks. “Jaws made us afraid, Shark Week makes us understand. Presenting the real true story of the value of sharks helps us appreciate the important role they play in the marine eco-system.” Dr. Gallagher agrees.
“Marine scientists, including myself, give The Bahamas great credit for the country’s shark sanctuary legislation,” said Gallagher, who has been exploring and documenting marine resources in The Bahamas for more than a decade and says there is no body of water comparable to it. A proponent of naming the waters the Lucayan Sea, he cites the statistic that an individual is more likely to be struck by lightning twice than to be bitten by a shark.
“Research which we have helped contribute to demonstrates that tragically, unlike The Bahamas, there are countries where greed and avarice create a shark fin trade that claims fins from up to 73 million sharks a year,” says Dr. Gallagher, who talks respectfully of the marine creatures he has just been swimming with as he peels off a standard wet suit and unloads his dive gear from the second dive of the afternoon. “And while The Bahamas is protecting sharks and as you can see, the population out here today is healthy and active and non-threatening, sharks in many places elsewhere continue to be threatened and that is heart-breaking for anyone who studies their role in the marine eco-system.”
A Discovery Channel press release on Shark Week says a study published in Nature magazine earlier this year found that oceanic sharks and rays declined by at least 71% since 1970. Shark Week, Discovery Channel’s most popular program, will run from Sunday, July 11 through Sunday, July 18 with the Bahamas episode on the third night, Tuesday. Discovery Channel dubs its 2021 shows a ‘jawesome lineup’ beginning with a docu-series and includes, in addition to Brad Paisley, William Shatner, JB Smoove, Tiffany Haddish and others with celebrities diving alongside marine biologists and representatives from respected science institutes like Beneath the Waves and Oceana. Shark Week 2021 precedes the Summer Olympics and, says Discovery Channel, promises “to deliver all- new groundbreaking shark stories revealing remarkable insights into the mysterious world of these magnificent creatures.”
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