Discovery Channel is the midst of its beloved wet, wild (and educational!) annual week celebrating sharks, but it may have gone a step too far when it pulled one over on viewers Sunday night.
Shark Week 2013 kicked off with "Megalodon: The Monster That Lives," about a team of marine biologists and shark enthusiasts searching off the coast of South Africa for an ancient, massive prehistoric shark with an unmatched bite force of up to 18.2 tons.
The trouble is, megalodon doesn't exist -- at least not any more.
The "murderer of the sea" last lived 1.5 million years ago (and stretching back 28 million years), but the only indication Discovery gave that the special wasn't strictly factual was a brief disclaimer flashed at the end of the presentation:
“Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of [the giant creature] continue to this day. Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they might be."
Discovery's fans, who have come to rely on the network's "non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world and all its wonder, diversity and amazement," were furious, and they weren't shy about letting the channel know on social media.
The criticism spilled from "Megalodon"-related posts on Discovery's Facebook page to its promotions for Monday and Tuesday night's content, with people demanding apologies and threatening to abandon the network.
But Discovery's Shark Week producers were standing by the film, pointing to the disclaimer aired along with the special.
“With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon,” said Michael Sorensen, executive producer of Shark Week.
“It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today?" he said. "It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”
"Megalodon" drew easy comparisons to Animal Planet's "Mermaids: The New Evidence" which aired in May and confused and angered viewers. Animal Planet similarly aired its mockumentary the way it would with a real educational program, with a similar disclaimer at the end.