'Shark Week' Offers More Glimpses Into Terrifying, Predator-Infested Waters

Shark Week Offers More Glimpses Into Terrifying, Predator-Infested Waters

Andy Dehart says he can't think of a place he'd rather be than hundreds of feet below sea level in the company of some of the world's deadliest creatures.

"Being under water with sharks is my form of yoga," said Dehart, a shark expert and adviser to the Discovery Channel, which kicks off its 22nd annual "Shark Week" broadcast Aug 2.

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"To me, it's the most relaxing place on earth," Dehart told ABCNews.com.

But for most people, who unlike Dehart would never willingly enter shark-infested waters, "Shark Week" offers them insight into the mysterious world below.

This year's programming will focus on the history of shark attacks, according to Dehart, who said that the six new shows to be shown during this year's "Shark Week" will show just how much has been learned about the sea creatures since 1916, when sharks made headlines after five people were attacked in 12 days off the coast of New Jersey.

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The 1916 shark attacks, documented in "Shark Week's" drama "Blood in the Water," were the inspiration for the book and later the hit movie "Jaws," which is credited for instilling the fear of sharks into generations of swimmers and surfers.

"We've come a long way since then," said Dehart, who currently works at the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. "Back then people thought shark attacks were not possible north of North Carolina.

"Now we know that sharks do go up there, and there are large tiger sharks off the coast of New York," said Dehart of one of the three species of sharks considered to be truly deadly.

There are on average 63 shark attacks a year, which result in fewer than five fatalities. Today, the odds of getting attacked by a shark are slim, even in places like Florida, where the greatest number of shark attacks occur. But even at the height of shark attack incidents in 2000, the odds of getting killed by a shark were one in 264 million, meaning you had a greater chance of getting mauled to death by a dog (odds of that happening are about nine to one), according to Dehart.

Dehart said it was also once believed that great white sharks, the animal probably most feared by humans, would only survive in tropical seas, but that it is now known the sharks actually prefer cooler water and are usually found only in warmer climates when they're traveling from one area to another.

'Shark Week' Debunks Underwater Myths

The sheer size of sharks is yet another myth Dehart says years of research has helped to debunk. Back around the time of the New Jersey attacks, a researcher published an article describing great white sharks as an "object of dread" that were capable of growing to a whopping 40 feet.

Dehart says that today scientists know that the largest recorded great white was 21 feet long.

"We didn't even believe that sharks could remove a human limb with a bite," said Dehart. "We now know they're incredibly efficient predators, and great white sharks can totally demobilize a seal bigger than the average human with just one strike."

But the lack of knowledge about sharks still motivates researchers like Dehart, who went night diving during the filming of Discovery's "Shark After Dark," a documentary that captures shark enthusiasts as they try to discover what exactly goes on underwater after sunset.

"It was very eerie," said Dehart of the night diving, despite claiming that he's never once run into a problem while diving, which he's done nearly 450 times. "The sharks move a lot faster at night, and while during the day there seems to be a pecking order for which shark gets what food, we saw the rules at night change."

But even Dehart knows that the frightening content broadcast during "Shark Week" will instill fear in humans who may never be completely at ease with the idea of sharing the open sea with creatures, such as the great white shark.

While Dehart does admit that the "Shark Week" programming is extremely entertaining to watch, he hopes that TV viewers will be captivated enough by the weeklong event that they will begin to fear less and care more about a group of animals he says are in grave danger of disappearing altogether.

"To me, 'Shark Week' does a great thing in keeping sharks in the public eye," he said. "Sharks really need our help to survive; we're killing 250,000 sharks every day."

Fisherman, who catch sharks to profit from selling their lucrative fins, which are used for shark fin soup, are rapidly depleting the shark population, as are those fisherman who accidently catch sharks while fishing for other animals (known as by-catching), says the special.

Fans Flock to Watch Back-to-Back 'Shark Week' Programming

For the past two decades, "Shark Week" has continued to build a fan base that has come to look forward to the week of shark programming on the cable channel.

According to Neilsen Media Research, last year's "Shark Week" was watched by 29.1 million viewers, and in 2007, 27.2 million people tuned in.

And it's likely that this year's audience will be just as huge, said Tim Molloy, a senior editor for TVGuide.com.

"Sharks are terrifying, and it's the whole fear of the unknown in a territory you're uncomfortable in," Molloy told ABCNews.com. "We like to confront those fears from the safety of our living rooms."

Followers were preparing to take in "Shark Week" even in the weeks before the broadcast: Fan groups dedicated to the network's event on Facebook multiplied, and people tweeted countdowns to the programs on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

Dehart is certain that it is the mastery -- as well as the inability to avoid sharks -- that makes "Shark Week" such a huge draw every year.

"Antarctica is the only place where, if you're looking to swim, you're absolutely guaranteed to not run into a shark," said Dehart.

But on second thought, Dehart reconsidered.

"Then again, we haven't even explored that area," he said, "so there very well may be some species down there."

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