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''Shark Week'' Returns

The Discovery Channel’s highest-rated TV event begins this week

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Anyone obsessed with shark lore can recount the horror stories: the one about the newlywed who sacrificed himself to a great white off the coast of Australia so that his wife could escape the attack… the one about the surfer in Hawaii whose board was mistaken for a sea lion’s belly… the one about that resort town menaced by… oh, yeah, that was the movie. If such fish tales spawn a desire to see sharks in action, you can either don scuba gear and risk life and limb to get up close and personal, or you can limit your swimming to freshwater lakes and just tune in to the Discovery Channel’s seventh annual Shark Week.

Forget those let’s-watch-a-ladybug-mate-in-the-meadow nature shows — the documentaries of Shark Week ’94 are not for the weak-stomached. With scenes of the ocean beasts swallowing severed tuna heads and straining their jaws to chomp on metal cages shielding intrepid divers, such offerings as The Shark Attack Files and Teeth of Death dangle the perfect bait for about 1.5 million nightly viewers each year, making it Discovery’s highest-rated summer programming event. ”People like to watch animals that can kill them,” explains John McKenney, underwater director of photography for Shark Doctors. ”What would you rather see? A pretty deer walking through the woods nibbling on grass or a great white shark threatening to mutilate someone’s body? It’s bloody. It’s gory. It’s horror. It’s kind of sick, but people thrive on that.”