If you’re a fan of sharks (and who isn’t, really) this is great news: Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, in collaboration with Australia’s University of Queensland, will launch a free, online course on sharks starting on June 28. The four-week course is open to anyone worldwide with an interest in sharks, and will be taught by four professors and one research technician from Cornell University, as well as a professor from the University of Queensland.
The program will launch during Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week, during which the “edutainment” channel airs predominantly programs on sharks. Students should expect about four to six hours of activity per week and, although the course is free, an official certificate of completion costs $49.
The syllabus will focus on shark biology, distribution of shark species worldwide, the role of sharks in the marine ecosystem and how scientists study sharks, including how researchers use new technology to track, study and understand the animals.
The popular Shark Week has received considerable criticism over the years for airing programs that are more sensationalistic than informative, often painting sharks as vicious man-eaters. Shark experts have long voiced concern that this only serves to further add to the misinformation about these endangered animals, causing people to fear them unnecessarily.
Especially criticized was the mockumentary “Megalodon — The Monster Shark Lives,” which was made to seem as if scientific evidence had been found proving that the prehistoric shark species Megalodon, a behemoth reaching lengths of 50 feet and more, was in fact still alive in the depths of the oceans. Although the mockumentary was entirely fictional, it featured only short disclaimers at the beginning and end of the show to that fact. It became one of Discovery Channel’s most-watched programs, and was followed up in 2014 with “Megalodon — New Evidence,” which provided, in fact, no new evidence. In 2015, the head of development and production at Discovery Channel announced that Shark Week would not air mockumentaries in the future, and would take a more scientific approach to its topics.
With this online class, Shark Week fans (or non-fans) can supplement the non-stop programming with scientifically sound information, so the next time someone expresses a fear of man-eating sharks, you’ll be well prepared to set them straight.