Discovery Channel ‘Shark Week’ features Florida Museum shark expert

July 26th, 2007

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Discovery Channel will feature Florida Museum of Natural History shark expert George Burgess in two programs during its 20th anniversary Shark Week beginning Sunday through Aug. 4.

Burgess is director of the Florida Program for Shark Research and the International Shark Attack File, both located in the museum on the University of Florida campus.

The week’s opening two-hour special, “Ocean of Fear: The Worst Shark Attack Ever,” airs at 9 p.m. Sunday and tells the story of the USS Indianapolis, which sank in the Philippine Sea in 1945. Hundreds of crew members floated in the water for days and many died from injuries, dehydration and exposure. Some were attacked by sharks.

Burgess also will appear in “Perfect Predators” at 9 p.m. on Aug. 1, which features the search for the most perfectly designed shark, including the great white and the extinct Megalodon.

Burgess assisted in creating and is featured in the Florida Museum’s new exhibit “Megalodon: Largest Shark that Ever Lived,” on display through Jan. 6, 2008.

Visitors may enter the jaws of a 60-foot-long Megalodon sculpture and learn more about this giant creature that vanished 2 million years ago, including ways to help protect today’s shark population and the oceans.

In the “Ocean of Fear” program, Burgess says “Survivors had to include sharks among their many concerns. Our investigation of the incident involved interviewing survivors who reported sharks scavenged those who were already dead or near death.”

Burgess said sharks played a large role, “but not as big a role as people would believe.” He adds, “The gentlemen were probably more concerned over lack of water, food and shelter than of sharks. I gained a tremendous appreciation for the personal sacrifice and bravery these men exhibited.”

While the thought of being attacked by a shark is frightening, Burgess emphasizes that sharks have more to fear from humans than we do from them.

“Populations are declining at a huge rate,” he said. “The real story is man bites shark, not shark bites man. Obviously, sharks have to be respected for their power and what they can do. Humans aren’t their prey. We are visitors when we enter the sea, so the reality is we should have respect for sharks. Although we’re not a designated food item, mistakes can be made.”

Visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/sharks/sharks.htm for more information on the Florida Program for Shark Research and www.flmnh.ufl.edu/megalodon/ for more information on the Megalodon exhibit.

Writer: Christine Eschenfelder
Media contact: Paul Ramey, (352) 846-2000, ext. 218, pramey@flmnh.ufl.edu