DUBAI: After almost 30 years filming Great Whites, Jeff Kurr has the art of the understatement down pat.
When asked what a person should do if he/she encounters a shark, he replied: “Well, don’t try to out-swim it, because that’s not going to work. Sharks are extremely fast.”
Yeah, thanks for that, Jeff.
The natural history filmmaker has been an integral part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week since 1991 (it began just three years earlier). But as we prepare for the 2020 edition on Aug. 16, we should remember that it’s Kurr’s job to remain calm in the choppiest of waters. And that includes when a 15-foot, 2,000-lb Great White named Colossus is breaching just 10 feet away from you.
How’s this for some advice: If you find yourself in the water with a shark, stare it down.
“Let the shark know that you see it because that eliminates the element of surprise and ambush that most sharks will use,” he said. “The shark can actually tell when you’re looking at it, so if you’re staring it down, it has a tendency to think, ‘Well, I guess you saw me. I can’t sneak up on you. I’m out of here.’”
Like most people, Kurr’s fascination with sharks came via the 1975 movie, “Jaws.” It was a relationship borne out of fear, but that’s something that both Kurr and Shark Week strive to change.
“After ‘Jaws,’ I was terrified. I don’t think I even got in the ocean for a couple of years, but as I learned more about sharks and then started diving with them, all that fear was erased. I realized that if you get in the water with a shark, he’s not going to come in and immediately try to bite you. I actually find most sharks to be quite shy,” he said.
And while the sight of a shark breaching the ocean at 25mph with a seal clenched firmly between its jaws might not seem to convey the idea of a shy animal, the reality of Shark Week is education. And it’s working, too. Over the years, Kurr has seen the shark go from feared beast to the most popular wild animal in the world, which is important — without them, we have a big problem.
“Sharks are at the top of the food chain, and they keep the ocean balanced and healthy by removing some of the animals that are sick, injured, and overpopulating,” explained Kurr. “It’s extremely important that we protect these sharks to keep the entire ocean healthy and balanced.”
Anybody who follows Shark Week will know that one of its most amazing aspects is the tech behind it. Each year, producers somehow create a machine capable of footage that will blow your mind. Not that the gadgets are always successful. But for every motorized seal that “sprung a leak, dropped like a stone, and was eaten by a shark on its way down” or giant crane that was “so big it almost sunk the boat,” there’s a drone cam that helps make programs resembling a shark version of the Matrix.
“This year we created a tow camera that puts us at sea-level to collect shots of the breaches. A shot from water-level of a shark flying through the air is probably one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever seen captured,” Kurr said.
While Kurr’s iconic Air Jaws show — 20 years and running — is always the go-to watch for Shark Week fans, you can’t argue with the variety in the 2020 schedule. How about Mike Tyson versus sharks? Or Will Smith in the water being scared of sharks? Or even Snoop Dogg sorting out his craziest shark encounters? They are all genuine programs this year.
As for Kurr, he just keeps going and getting better shots, with little thought to his own safety.
“When I’m filming sharks, I don’t really think about myself because I’m so focused on getting the shot,” he said. “That’s really all that matters. I rely on our planning to keep us safe. But sometimes, I do look back and get scared after the fact. It makes me wonder… just why did I put myself in that situation?”
Shark Week will premiere in the region from Sunday, Aug. 16 on Discovery Channel (OSN channel 500).