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'Air Jaws' a Tad Inflated

Discovery Channel, now in the midst of its 14th "Shark Week," may have reached bottom in terms of developing compelling new material for the annual programming stunt.

Case in point: Air Jaws: Sharks of South Africa, the special written and produced by Jeff Kurr and Scott Lucas. At one hour, it seems overblown and repetitious as it keeps touting the notion of great whites going airborne in pursuit of prey. (National Geographic Explorer
had already scooped Discovery on the breaching-sharks idea with a segment that aired Aug. 4 on CNBC.)

True, the lunging footage in Air Jaws
is exciting. But there's also considerable padding.

It's far more common to see killer whales and dolphins breaching the water, but this special doesn't supply enough information to warrant devoting an hour's airtime to these "flying" sharks — or "jumping jacks," as the locals call them.

The research team — which is tracking the "aerial predations" of the great whites in "the ring of death" surrounding South Africa's Seal Island — point out that the sharks don't engage in such acrobatics elsewhere. Using special cameras, the researchers determine that the deep drop in False Bay gives the attacking sharks unaccustomed maneuvering room.

Those cameras show that the sharks launch from the sea bottom at 20 miles an hour, a feat more clearly illustrated via computer-generated animation. (But that oft-repeated sequence is rather primitive, given what Discovery's done with Walking with Dinosaurs.)
Sometimes the seals, hurled 15 feet into the air by those full-vertical attacks, are quite nimble in their evasive tactics. But a veritable bone yard below is striking proof that most are caught off guard as the sharks explode straight up from the ocean floor.

Midway through the hour, the researchers — Chris Fallows and Rob Lawrence, also listed as this show's production coordinator and production manager — happen upon a 12-ton whale carcass and detour from the topic to show that great whites, even in a so-called "feeding frenzy," aren't the mindless predators we think they are.

Instead, they appear to take turns in feeding, even when "27 sharks answer the dinner bell" over a four-hour span, as narrator Will Lyman observes.

During this segment, we're even treated to a shot of a sexually aroused shark, with Lyman noting that this is the closest view yet of sharks in a mating mood.

Will Discovery unveil an X-rated "Shark Week"
next year?

Air Jaws, bowing on Discovery Aug. 12 at 9 p.m., repeats Aug. 19 at 7 p.m.