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For Andy Dehart, resident “shark advisor” for the Discovery Channel, his career goal crystallized when he was five years old, snorkeling with his father off the Florida Keys.
He saw a Caribbean Reef Shark up close, an event he calls “life changing.”
“I knew that I wanted to work with sharks my whole life,” he says. “Here I am, weighing maybe 50 pounds wet. And here’s this big reef shark, 15 feet long and maybe 200 pounds, graceful, the king of the water.”
Today, Dehart is a pivotal architect for one of TV’s longest running franchises, “Shark Week,” Discovery’s annual weeklong summer programming event devoted to exploring the most feared of aquatic beasts.
In this, its 22nd year, “Shark Week” will kick off on Discovery Channel on Sunday, August 2 (9 pm), with a new documentary, “Blood in the Water,” which will explore a 1916 series of fatal shark attacks on the New Jersey shoreline that in many ways, according to Dehart, spawned our collective irrational fear of sharks.
“We hope that people get over their fear
and show them a little respect.”
In fact, it was this freak series of attacks that inspired writer Peter Benchley to pen the novel and screenplay behind Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.”
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“That changed the human perception about sharks in general,” Dehart explains. “After this event, people had a stronger and angrier view of them.”
With many shark species, including the Hammerhead, on the verge of extinction, Dehart believes “Shark Week” plays a vital role in educating the public about carnivorous beasts he believes deserve the same rights and reverence as lions and tigers.
“More than 250,000 sharks are being fished out of the ocean each day – that’s a staggering number,” says Dehart, noting that Congress might soon intervene on behalf of these sea-dwellers with a bit of legislation called the Shark Act of 2009.
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“It’s OK to be afraid of sharks, but we hope that people get over their fear and show them a little respect.”
As for Dehart, who has spent more than 1,000 hours swimming with sharks, fear hasn’t really been an issue.
In all that time, he says he’s never come close to peril, and has only been bitten once, while trying to hold a four-footer for examination.
“We have a saying, if the head gets away, let go of the tail,” he explains. “Well, I didn’t do that and I ended up with a little bit of a hickey on my leg.”
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SHARK WEEK starts on Sunday, August 2, 2009, at 9PM ET/PT.