Updated: Aug 8
NOTE: This article was originally published on the site in 2021. It has been republished with updated material
I can still remember that summer morning in July of 1988. It was a hot Texas morning, as one might expect, but I also remember the sky was as blue as the ocean. I had gone out earlier for a pre-season workout in preparation for the upcoming football season. Weights followed by running stadium steps. I was a Junior in high school at the time and was hoping to make varsity on a loaded team full of Seniors that season. Hot, sweaty, exhausted, and desperately seeking a shower, I walked in the front door. Before I could close the door, I was bombarded by my mother calling out to me in what can best be described as pure enthusiasm.
"Shawn? Shawn! Come here. You have to see what is on TV!"
As a typical teenager is prone to do, I would have told her to hold her horses until I took a shower at least. However, there was something in her voice that day. A genuine excitement that was something we could share when all I wanted in life was to have as minimal contact with my parents as possible. My curiosity piqued. I went into the back of the house, a converted dining room that was now our living room. As I entered the room, sharks and divers were on the screen. More specifically, a Great White Shark. I was instantly fascinated.
"Look! This new program is called 'Shark Week, and they show shark shows all day for the entire week," my mother exclaimed. She quickly sat back in her chair and instantly glued to the screen.
At this point, I, too, was locked in. I sat on the couch and became mesmerized by show after show of sharks. At this moment in time, nothing else mattered. Not even that shower.
Since that first moment, Shark Week has become a summer staple of mine. I watched it every summer from that first one until 1992. While I lived an everyday life as a teenager and then a young adult, I still made time to watch the sharks. Great Whites, Hammerheads, the USS Indianapolis, and other stories. It was fascinating, and I was hooked, pun intended!
However, in 1993, I missed my first Shark Week. I was in Basic Training in San Antonio, TX, at Lackland Air Force Base. While I cannot be sure, I doubt they would have let us stop training to watch Shark Week. I wasn't crazy enough to ask either.
I also missed 1994 (in South Korea) and 1995 (in an apartment outside Mountain Home Air Force base that didn't offer cable yet.) At that point, I had forgotten about Shark Week. These things happen when one is stationed overseas and living without cable tv. Yes, children, there was a time in America when there was no streaming service. Cable tv was a luxury item for many people.
In the summer of 1996, my life changed. I was still stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base but lived in a townhome in Boise. What a great place! I was near downtown, I could see the mountains, and I was a single man in his mid-twenties living the dream! Why would I want anything to be different?
I was getting ready to do my usual thing on one particular Sunday morning. It was a nice summer day, and I was getting ready to go out into the foothills to rollerblade down into the city and then have lunch. As I descended the stairs, my roommate's son watched TV. I remember asking him what he was watching.
"It's Shark Week," he said without moving.
A flood of memories came over me. Shark Week! That's right. Oh, how much I had missed you.
I sat down in a chair and started watching with him. Before I knew it, I realized I had missed my outdoor adventure, lunch, and even afternoon beers. Oh well; there were sharks on TV that needed to be watched!
This year was the 34th Shark Week. As I signed off for the summer last evening, I wondered how many of the Shark Weeks I have watched. I went back to the beginning in 1988 and "did the math:"
Years I watched Shark Week: 1988-1992; 1996-1999; 2003-2019; 2021-2022.
Years I missed Shark Week: 1993-1995; 2000-2002; 2020
I have seen 27 of the 34 Shark Weeks that Discovery has put out. In the grand scheme of life, this is an insignificant achievement. In my personal life, though, it's a fun achievement. It's one of those things I look forward to each year, and to be honest, I put it on my calendar.
The reason I continue watching Shark Week has evolved (at a much faster rate than sharks have evolved, I must say!)
In those first years, it was pure love of sharks. After dinosaurs, there was no cooler animal than the shark. The perfect mixture of horror and fascination, sharks, are the stuff of legends. Sharks are beautiful and misunderstood creatures that are lethal, strong, fast, and alien. Shark Week was bringing enlightenment to the masses.
Then in the early 2000s, when I started the streak of 16 seasons in a row, Shark Week became something I would watch with my sons. At first, it was to share in the wonder of these mysterious animals in our blue oceans and seas (and in the case of Bull sharks, the green lakes and rivers too) of our planet. A whole week of "whoa" and "wow" filled the home.
As they grew up, it became a marker of sorts for summer. Do you know that period between the 4th of July and the first day of school? That time, sometimes called the "dog days of summer," can be dreadful. Shark Week was a welcome respite from the long and tedious days until school began. It gave hope that summer was nearing the end in a time when there was no holiday to break up the monotony.
In five years, my youngest son will graduate high school. I wonder what then will Shark Week become for me? I won't have my sons watch it with me; they will be adults living their lives. It will no longer be that summer marker it is currently. So I ponder, "why watch?"
I suppose it will come back to the beginning, a must-see watch for the love of sharks. Even then, it will be different. It will be forever intertwined with nostalgia as I reflect on past chapters of my life: A teenager, a wayward young adult, a military man, a newlywed, a father of small children, a father of school-aged boys, an empty nester, and finally an old, retired man. Maybe by then, I'll have grandchildren who will sit with me and enjoy watching sharks on tv as much as their grandfather.
Please share your favorite Shark Week moments, stories, and personal experiences in the comments!