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National Geographic Wades Into SHARKFEST Waters
July 19, 2020  | By Mike Hughes

Sharks are ready to gobble up our TV time again.

It will be three weeks of SHARKFEST on National Geographic, starting Sunday, July 19, and continues on Nat Geo Wild for two more, starting Aug. 9 – the same day that Discovery starts its own Shark Week.

It will be sharks, sharks, and more sharks, but will it be worth watching? Well, yes and no.

Certainly, some of the specials veer toward blood and gore. You don't want to watch Shark vs. Surfer (8 p.m. ET Aug. 2) with the kids or their grandparents, for instance.

And some are sort of slick and surface. Most Wanted Sharks (10 p.m. ET, July 23) simply samples the most popular creatures on the Internet.

It's important to remember that National Geographic and Discovery both tend toward high technical quality with a solid factual underpinning. A SHARKFEST sampling quickly shows three new hours worth watching.

Sharkcano: The title sounds like a silly Sharknado spin-off, but the content is solid.

Sharks gravitate to volcanic islands, a researcher says. That may be because the erosion creates murky water – ideal hunting grounds for them.

He goes to Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean formed by a volcano. Swimming is banned, but some people go ahead anyway. In the past decade, 11 have been killed, and 13 others lost a limb. (Debuts 10 p.m. ET, July 21)

What the Shark? Big sharks get all the attention, but here's a look at the smaller, stranger ones (top). They're described with crisply written narration, delivered by actor Robert Davi. (Debuts 10 p.m. ET, July 29)

World's Biggest Tiger Shark? The opening SHARKFEST special is a gentle one. This isn't about blood and fear. Mostly, we get the enthusiasm of Kori Garza, a marine biologist – young and tattooed – who was fulfilling a lifelong ambition.

She was 3 when her mother – "a big fan of horror films," Garza said by phone from French Polynesia – showed her Jaws. That year, young Kori told Santa she wanted a great white shark for Christmas.

She didn't get one but wasn't deterred. In St. Louis, 700 miles from saltwater, she became obsessed with sharks and such. Her mother (a mail carrier) and father (a policeman) may have been surprised but didn't object. "They were, 'OK, good luck with that.'"

Garza finished high school a year early and reached Hawaii Pacific University at 16. She got a marine science degree and was studying coral reefs when she was asked to join a film for Discovery's Shark Week in 2014. Ever since, she's worked with sharks – studying, photographing, and conducting tours.

For the past four years (two full-time,) she's lived in French Polynesia, which outlawed shark-hunting 14 years ago. That creates a two-million-square-mile zone where sharks can roam free, "And there have been almost no unprovoked shark attacks," Garza said.

One day, she said, she was swimming with "a few of the small tiger sharks – well, 6-to-8-foot ones. I kind of looked up and saw this shadow, almost like a submarine. My jaw just dropped."

Fortunately, two colleagues had cameras. She swam alongside the giant for size comparison purposes. They decided this female is about 16 feet, possibly 18. The high end would make her the world's longest tiger shark, but its girth is even more impressive.

The special has Garza trying to find her again. It also shows her knack of "re-directing" a shark by tapping it gently on the snout. "It's not difficult, (but) the first few times it's a little scary."

She's also able to spend four minutes underwater. Meditation techniques and relaxation help.

That, of course, requires being relaxed while surrounded by potential killers. Garza can. "I can't believe I get to do this for a living…. I might always smell like fish and blood, but I love it." (8 p.m. ET, Sunday, July 19, National Geographic)

NOTE: All dates are for initial airings on the National Geographic channel; most shows will rerun later during SHARKFEST on NatGeo Wild. 

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