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Giant makos, boss queens and a baby angel shark at Discovery’s “Shark Week” where women shine

NEW YORK — Imagine climbing into a life-sized decoy made from a whale carcass and steering it into deep water. You search — yes, you search — for a group of hungry sharks to trigger a feeding frenzy. To lure them in, you shoot out hundreds of gallons of synthetic blood and bait. Then you watch them lose control.

That’s what marine biologist Liv Dixon did for Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week,” one of many jaw-dropping moments during this year’s 21-hour new program in which scientists risk everything to better understand apex predators.

“Sharks take every opportunity,” says Dixon. “And I’m similar. I take every opportunity that comes my way. You can feel the adrenaline rushing through your veins, like your whole body is shaking.”

The week begins on Sunday with Dixon’s hour-long show “Belly of the Beast: Bigger & Bloodier,” in which she and veteran “Shark Week” biologist Dr. Austin Gallagher attempt to lure a so-called Queen Boss off the coast of New Zealand.

“We’re looking at these sort of subgroups or clans of great white sharks and we think they’re dominated by a larger female, which we’ve dubbed Queen Boss. I think that’s great – there’s a lot of female energy at play here,” says Dixon. “We’re really just trying to figure out the social dynamics of these sharks.”

The seven-night new shows will be hosted by John Cena and feature scientists traveling to Australia to find out why there has been a spike in attacks near Sydney Harbour and to Mexico to find out why there have been three fatal great white shark incidents near a fishing village.

In the show “Big Shark Energy,” researchers compare the speed, hunting ability and fearlessness of New Zealand sharks to see who has the confidence to outswim a female shark. Other scientists hope to find the fattest great white shark – is 6,000 pounds possible? – and study its poop to find out what it eats.

This image released by Discovery shows a scene from

This image released by Discovery shows a scene from Monster Hammerheads: Species X, part of a 21-hour program celebrating Shark Week. Photo credit: AP

Shark Week has become a staple of summer television programming, allowing people to watch from the safety of land as prehistoric apex predators effortlessly and alarmingly emerge from the darkness and open their mouths.

“They still seem strange, like a species of monster from the past,” says Howard Lee, president of Discovery Networks and TLC. “There’s always something new to learn that hasn’t been discovered yet. There are even species of sharks that we haven’t always caught.”

Shark Week highlights also include a look at whether angel sharks still exist in Japanese waters – including remarkable footage of young spiny dogfish giving birth – and why a South Pacific resort has become a hotspot for shark attacks as bull sharks, tiger sharks and great white sharks move ever closer to beaches.

As always, behind the amusing titles, dramatic music and daring titles like “The Real Sharkano” and “Monster Hammerheads: Species X” lies a deep respect for the animals and sound scientific knowledge.

This image released by Discovery shows a scene from “Belly...

This image released by Discovery shows a scene from “Belly of the Beast: Bigger and Bloodier,” part of a 21-hour program celebrating Shark Week. Photo credit: AP

The great female energy Dixon mentioned is also felt outside the water. She and researchers such as Zandi Ndhlovu, Christine de Silva and Kendyl Berna are taking centre stage, challenging the male-dominated shark waters.

“More than anything, I hope it can inspire other young women and girls to get involved,” says Dixon. “I’m so proud to represent women in this field. I really think it’s important for other women, and especially for the next generation of young female entrepreneurs and scientists.”

Ndhlovu, a South Africa-based freediving instructor and founder of the Black Mermaid Foundation, first appeared on Shark Week in 2022 and returns for two episodes this season, breaking new ground in representation.

“It’s great to work with sharks and present myself to the world as a black woman in a way that even young children recognize that the ocean belongs to them. This strengthens the representation of researchers and the importance of science.”

Also being studied this week is a giant mako named “Makozilla,” believed to have eaten sea lions off the coast of California. Scientists use a dummy sea lion and then drop huge chunks of tuna to get bite marks that match sea lion scars.

“Personally, I’m also involved in whale research and I think, ‘I wish there was a ‘whale week,’ but no one would say, ‘Oh, wow, these humpback whales are really peaceful and beautiful,'” says Berna, an environmental scientist and wildlife filmmaker who has spent time in a shark cage trying to attract makos.

“I hope that this will help young children to love sharks,” she adds. “And when my children see things like this, hopefully we’ll be one step further and try to create more protection for sharks, not just in the United States, but around the world.”

Discovery’s Shark Week has a rival: Its programming runs parallel to National Geographic’s SharkFest, which also offers hours of shark content, including Anthony Mackie’s exploration of the shark ecosystem in his hometown of New Orleans. There’s also a shark thriller in theaters called The Last Breath, which is unrelated to the film.

Created as a counterbalance to those who developed a fear of sharks after watching Jaws, Shark Week – this year with an accompanying podcast – has become a goal for scientists seeking to protect an animal that is older than trees.

“Isn’t that one of the things that makes the ocean so incredible? And isn’t that what makes life so amazing?” asks Ndhlovu. “We know so much about the land. We don’t know so much about the ocean and there is so much left to discover.”