‘Sharknado’ dismissed as ‘fantasy’ by real-life shark experts… who will be ill-prepared for shark-filled tornadoes

Katrina Clarke | July 19, 2013 | National Post


AP photo/syfy

Acknowledging nobody really thinks sharks can be picked up by a tornado and attack people from above, amused shark experts want to set the record straight in the wake of Sharknado, a TV movie about airborne sharks unleashed on Los Angeles.

“This is fantasy at its best,” said George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research. “That’s why it’s on the Syfy network. Folks need to remember that.”

The film became a hit on social media with nearly 5,000 tweets per minute at the peak of its popularity and earned 387,000 mentions on social media during the premier last week. A sequel to the film has just been green lit.

“It sounds like it’s turning into one of those cult films and that’s probably where it belongs,” said Mr. Burgess with a laugh, admitting he hasn’t yet seen the film but was intrigued by it.

Mr. Burgess, who manages the International Shark Attack File, said there is “not a chance” a tornado tossing sharks through the air could happen in real life. However, he did acknowledge that waterspouts, tornados over water, have occasionally been known to suck up fish and deposit them elsewhere.

“That said, there’s never been a report of anything even approaching the size of a shark,” he said.


In the film, which features actress Tara Reid and actor Ian Ziering, sharks attack humans in the water, in the air and on land. Some devour their victims by swallowing them whole.

The chances of a shark swallowing someone whole on land are “none,” said Mr. Burgess. The chances of such an attack in the water are slim to none.

“Much like you and I, you don’t eat a T-bone steak in one bite,” he said. “You take off pieces. Sharks do the same thing.”

Mr. Burgess said there have been instances in history when whole bodies have been found inside sharks, but they have generally been found in pieces.


An even more fantastical scene in the film comes when Mr. Ziering’s character, Fin, jumps into the mouth of an oncoming shark with a chainsaw. He cuts his way out and survives.

“There’s been no recollection in human record of a human getting out of the stomach of something,” Mr. Burgess said.

Although genuine shark attacks are nothing to be glorified, even some attack survivors are drawn to shark entertainment.

Orangeville, Ont. nurse, Nicole Moore, lost much of her left arm and had severe damage to her left leg after a shark attacked her in the waters of Cancun, Mexico in 2011.

Despite this, Ms. Moore told the National Post in an April interview she still enjoys shows like the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

“The first year after my attack, I wanted to watch it,” she said. “My husband said ‘Are you sure you want to watch this?’ And I said ‘Well, yeah, I’m all over it!’”

She also said she doesn’t blame the shark and is now on a mission to save the carnivorous fish.

Although sharks flying through the air certainly aren’t anything humans need to be concerned about, the number of shark attacks is on the rise. In 2006 there were 59 unprovoked attacks and in 2012 there were 81.

“Does that mean that we’re under attack and there should be a Hollywood movie? No,” Mr. Burgess said, anticipating the next move of movie producers looking for another “best worst” shark film.

AP Photo/SyfY

AP Photo/SyfYIn this image released by Syfy, sharks attack a man in a scene from the Syfy original film “Sharknado.”
The network is announcing a sequel to “Sharknado,” which became an instant campy classic with its recent airing. The new film premieres in 2014. 

He said the rise in shark attacks is simply due to the increase in human population and the increasing interest humans have in aquatic recreation. More bodies in the water means there are more opportunities for attacks.

Even when sharks do attack humans, the results often aren’t fatal. So far in 2013 there have been 25 reported unprovoked attacks and four deaths, Mr. Burgess said.

Sharks will often take one bite of a person and then leave it alone after realizing the person is not a fish. He calls this a “hit and run.”

According to the International Shark Attack File, there is no record of unprovoked attacks ever taking place in Canadian waters. In Canada, the last provoked attack, which can involve something such as attempting to get a shark off a fishing hook, took place in 1953.

“We don’t have a lot of sharks who are interested in eating humans,” said Lee Newman, aquarium curator with the Vancouver Aquarium.

He added that there are fewer Canadians who spend time in the water year-round than in tropical regions where there are more reported shark attacks.

Mr. Burgess said if sharks were to attack people in LA waters, they would be either white sharks, which can reach lengths of six metres, or mako sharks, which can reach lengths of around four metres.

However, he wanted to stress that sharks are not the enemy and humans are not their natural prey. But humans do need to be aware of the risks they are accepting when entering a wild aquatic environment, he said.

“It’s not shark infested waters. It’s human infested waters,” he said.

Luckily, Sharknado has done a better job making people laugh than reinforcing shark stereotypes, and Mr. Burgess sees it as entertainment.

“I’m looking forward to seeing it sometime because I’m sure it’ll be a great laugh,” he said. “I’ll have to do it when I’m sitting with a cold one next to me.”


About Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto- and Vancouver-based freelance reporter. Her work appears in the National Post, the Toronto Star, CBC Life and J-Source. Reach her at katrina.clarke24@gmail.com or on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.
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