Did Discovery Channel jump the shark?
03:10 - Source: CNN

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The Discovery Channel is facing criticism for a shark week special

It explored whether the prehistoric megalodon could still exist today

Disgruntled viewers poked fun at the show online

However, the special also brought in record ratings

CNN  — 

With all of the fake sharks flying around TV lately, some viewers wish the Discovery Channel would stick just to the facts.

On Sunday, the network kicked off its popular predator-infested extravaganza, Shark Week, with the premiere of a dramatized special that explores the existence of prehistoric sharks called megalodons.

Discovery billed the special, “Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives,” as taking viewers “on a search for a massive killer great white shark responsible for a rash of fatalities off the coast of South Africa.” Viewers were expecting to watch shark experts and scientists examine evidence that the massive creatures could still be swimming around somewhere.

The only problem is that, as National Geographic notes, the megalodon has been extinct for millions of years, and viewers have complained they weren’t presented with any evidence to the contrary.

“Dear discovery channel, your fake documentary that you are trying to pass off as reality is upsetting,” tweeted one viewer. “The director of blair witch just tweeted that the #megalodon show is the worst thing he has seen since the blair witch project,” said another.

David Shiffman, a doctoral student studying shark ecology and conservation at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, told Nat Geo that he wouldn’t expect this kind of programming from Discovery.

“If this megalodon special had aired on the Syfy Channel, I probably would have loved it,” he said. “But Discovery bills itself as the premier science education television station in the world, and they’re perpetuating this utter nonsense.”

The executive producer of Shark Week, Michael Sorensen, points out that Discovery aired three disclaimers for “Megalodon,” including that “none of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.”

Additionally, the network warned that “certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized,” and that “legends of giant sharks persist all over the world; there is still debate about what they may be.”

It seems the point of “Megalodon” was to raise questions more than present answers.

“With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon,” Sorensen said. “It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, ‘can Megalodon exist today?’ It’s (the) ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

It’s clear that TV audiences are interested in finding out. The “Megalodon” show brought in record ratings for Discovery, with 4.8 million viewers tuning in. In the 26-year history of Shark Week, “Megalodon” is the highest-rated and most-watched Shark Week episode to date.

CNN’s Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.