This week is the 24th annual Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. Jeff Kurr has worked for the network for two decades putting together some of Shark Week’s most popular programming; this year, his special Great White Invasion kicks off the week last night. I met Jeff at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. He showed up wearing a gold necklace with a shark tooth pendant (more on that later) and a giant bandage on his hand from where a precancerous mole had been removed. (When you spend so much time on boats, it’s important to know the signs of skin cancer.) Jeff talked to Crushable about why you should be careful about eating fish tacos in Mexico and how he wants to solve the mystery of shark sex.
Why do you think Shark Week is such a phenomenon?
Probably psychology – people are interested in things that scare them. But sharks are far from monsters. They are not the beasts they’re portrayed as.
How did you end up with this job? When you were a little kid did you think you’d grow up to make shark documentaries?
As a young kid in the ’60s I watched a lot of Jacques Cousteau documentaries. I used to say “someday I’ll be out there filming sharks.”
How has Shark Week changed in the past 20 years? How have technological advancements helped?
21 years ago we knew very little about shark behavior. Thanks to technology like tracking tags we can figure out where sharks move and how fast they grow. The information comes in rapidly. Also, high speed cameras are great. Have you seen The Hurt Locker? You know the scene where the bomb goes off and you see all the tiny details and stuff in the air? The camera used for that was a Phantom Camera. It was the perfect way to break down breaching shark details. You can take something that lasts one second and make it last 45 seconds, show every detail. It has revolutionized the way we look at sharks. [Editor's note: Kurr's use of the Phantom Camera nabbed him an Emmy nomination for Best Cinematography.]