6000 LB. SHARK key art | ©2024 Discovery Channel

6000 LB. SHARK key art | ©2024 Discovery Channel

Extremely fit tough guy John Cena is the host of Discovery/Discovery+ Channel’s SHARK WEEK, running this year from Sunday, July 7 through Saturday, July 13. We didn’t get to ask him about the premise of the episode 6000 LB. SHARK, which at first glance seems like it might be about shark obesity.

However, Tom “the Blowfish” Hird got on Zoom with Assignment X to talk about the episode. Hird, who describes himself as “the world’s only heavy-metal marine biologist,” is originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire, England. A prolific diver, Hird’s writings include the book BLOWFISH’S OCEANOPEDIEA: 291 EXTRAORDINARY THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THE SEA.

6000 LB. SHARK explores how big Great White sharks can possibly get. Hird traveled with a Discovery Channel team to the waters off Stewart Island, also known as Rakiura, the third largest island of New Zealand. Some uncommonly large Great White sharks have been found there. By studying the sharks in action, as well as their droppings, the researchers hope to get a better understanding of what the sharks are eating and how it contributes to their growth.

The largest currently living Great White is a twenty-foot-long female known as Deep Blue, estimated to weigh approximately 4,800 pounds. Deep Blue tends to occupy the waters between Hawaii and Mexico, but her relatives Down Under seem to have the potential to rival her in size.

One of the major factors in the Great White growth possibilities is how much bigger an individual shark’s liver can grow. In human beings, an expanding liver is a bad thing. But in sharks, the reverse is true, Hird relates.

“When it comes to the internal parts of sharks, it is essentially a liver with fins and teeth. The liver in sharks is massive, compared to the rest of the other organs. Some deep-sea sharks can be internally almost half liver. It’s that big, it’s that important, and it plays a role in digestion, in the storage of nutrients, in just keeping the animal healthy as well, and because of their feast and famine lifestyle – they’ll have a big feed on something, and suddenly everything kicks into life. The stomach’s working, the liver’s working, everything’s working.

“In doing that, you’ll get this increased metabolic activity, this increase in physical size of the liver. But then, once that’s done, you [as a shark] don’t want to keep having to pay the energetic cost of running at high speed when there’s no food going in. So, having this ability to fluctuate, in terms of their liver size and their liver function, it just makes them these perfect, perfect predators in terms of the long migrations and the long periods between feeds.”

Often, including in other episodes of SHARK WEEK, divers and biologists discuss the dangers of diving with Great Whites. However, Hird and his colleagues seem relatively unconcerned when they go into the water with even very large animals. Is Hird positive the sharks know he isn’t a seal, or is he just putting on a brave face?

Hird laughs at the question. “I am absolutely one hundred percent positive that the sharks know that I am not a seal. I’d like to say I’m not hairy enough, but I think we both know that’s a lie.”

Viewers might have a better sense of the fact that the sharks don’t pose much threat if they saw all of the work that the researchers do in order to get the sharks to come into camera range. This preparation isn’t part of the episodes, Hird says, “because frankly, it would be boring. We’ve got to go to the right place at the right time. We’ve got to spend a long time chumming [spreading bait around] to get the sharks in. They are not interested in human activities, they really aren’t. So, we’ve got to go to a great effort to get them in, and then it might be a couple of hours before they turn up. That’s something else that you don’t see. You only see it when the sharks are there.”

That said, Hird adds, “I have undying respect for these animals, from the Great White all the way to the very, very small. They are sharks. They’ve all got teeth. I really see it as the same as you would if you’re walking down the street and people have got dogs. Every dog, even if it’s a Chihuahua, has got teeth. It could bite you if it wanted. But if you don’t put your hands in its mouth, and you don’t bother it when it’s clearly upset and telling you to get away by barking at you, you’re going to be fine. Now, sharks can’t bark, but they can tell you to get out of their space, they can tell you to get out of their way. As long as you read those signs and treat them with respect, there really isn’t anything to worry about.”

SHARK WEEK 2024 Key Art | ©2024 Discovery Channel

SHARK WEEK 2024 Key Art | ©2024 Discovery Channel

What are the signs that it’s time to get out of a shark’s way? “There are a couple of things a shark can do when it’s getting a little bit shined on [i.e., annoyed]. We would initially start looking for its body posture. A calm shark, a happy shark, is very, very smooth, very, very fluid in the water. They take nice, slow turns, everything is graceful.

“When things start getting a little bit more uppity, a bit more aggressive, we’ll start seeing the shark’s fins drop, their movements get a bit more sporadic, you might see them turning more sharply. There’s an increase in more agitated behavior. That is often as well accompanied by gaping. This is when the shark will open its mouth, but the eyes will stay open, as it were, so the eye doesn’t roll back in the socket. It will open its mouth, and this again is another way of posturing and saying, ‘Get out of my space.’ But we didn’t get any of that, certainly not towards us. And in fact, actually, when we were there, considering the number of sharks we had, they were unbelievably civil to each other.”

What is the division of responsibility between the members of the filming team?

“Well, you do what you’re told when you’re on the boat. That’s always key. When the skipper says do something, you do it. But no, we all have our own roles. Obviously, myself and Leigh [de Necker], we’re there as scientists, and we’ve got [attention] on the welfare of the sharks as well. But I’m a dive master, so I’ve got [attention] on people’s diving, and I’m usually the one that’s checking out on everyone’s [equipment.

“Everyone does the best job that they’re there for, but certainly, whenever I’ve been there, if someone needs help with something, or a hand with something, or a chat about something, everyone pitches in. With our show, it was all about collaboration. If someone had an idea, ‘What about this?’, ‘What about that?’, both in terms of making the show look good, because we are telling a story, or, ‘What if we try this idea or that idea?’ So, from that side of things, everyone really chucked in, and I think you see that in the show, I think you see the results of a great team effort.”

Given all of his work with them, are Great Whites Hird’s favorite shark species?

“I do love Great Whites; I am a very, very big fan, but they are not my all-time favorite shark. I don’t want to cause a riot by saying that. My all-time favorite shark is the tasselled wobbegong, which has a beard, just like me, so that’s why I like it so much.” For those unacquainted with the tasselled wobbegong, it is a subspecies known as a “carpet shark.” The animal looks like it was designed by Jim Henson’s Workshop for inclusion in THE DARK CRYSTAL; readers are encouraged to look it up online.

“But for this particular show,” Hird continues, “we were focusing on the Great Whites, just because of the unique scenario that we find ourselves down in Stewart Island – the topography, the area, the effects of fishing down there – well, the lack of the effects of fishing down there. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Stewart Island, and so going there to look at something as big and as charismatic as a Great White makes good sense.”

What would Hird most like people to know about this year’s SHARK WEEK?

“Give it a watch. Watch all of it. It’s really good. 6,000 LB. SHARK has got Leigh de Necker on it, and she’s brilliant, so I’d definitely watch it for that. 6,000 LB. SHARK is also being broadcast on my birthday, so that’s a bit of a bonus. Just watch SHARK WEEK. Enjoy it.”

Related:SHARK WEEK: ALIEN SHARKS: GHOSTS OF JAPAN: Researcher Forrest Galante on Discovery Channel documentary – Exclusive Interview

Related:SHARK WEEK: Shark expert Paul de Gelder on his five different specials – Exclusive Interview

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Article:SHARK WEEK: 6000 LB. SHARK: Researcher Tom Hird on new shark documentary – Exclusive Interview



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