Shark Week: Lessons learned from 20 years of ‘Air Jaws’


‘Air Jaws’ – 20 years of sharks in flight


Shark Week begins Sunday on Discovery.

Talk to Jeff Kurr and you realize this is a man with an endless fascination with sharks.

Indeed, in the 20 years he’s been doing “Air Jaws” films for Discovery’s Shark Week, he’s used innovative filmmaking techniques such as robotic seals, remote-control submersibles and helicopters, submarines, thermal imaging and high-speed cameras to capture footage of previously unseen shark behavior. In the process, he’s gotten countless spectacular moving images of great whites breaching the ocean’s surface in pursuit of prey.

This year, Discovery’s all-sharks-all-the-time event, which runs Sunday to Sunday, Aug. 9-16, contains two of Kurr’s films: “Air Jaws: Ultimate Breach Off,” airing Aug. 9, and “Air Jaws 2020,” on Thursday, Aug. 13. The latter is a retrospective show in which he and shark experts Chris Fallows and Dickie Chivell, among others, discuss their experiences making the landmark “Air Jaws” films.

One of the most important things they’ve learned about great whites is they’re not the mindless eating machines they’ve been portrayed to be but rather shrewd hunters with an ability to strategize and size up potential prey.


Shark Week begins Sunday on Discovery.

When you’re in the water with a great white shark,” Kurr says, “… you can see them looking at you and the eye twitching. And you see there’s a lot going on there behind that eye, that the shark is evaluating you and showing caution and restraint if it feels a little bit nervous about what you are.

“And when you experience that in person when you’re that close to a shark and you look into his eye, you really understand that these creatures are thinking about things, they’re evaluating things and they have a lot of incredible senses that allow them to sort of evaluate you and figure out what you are and what their normal prey is and adapting to their environment. They’re really, really intelligent animals.”

For “Air Jaws: Ultimate Breach Off,” Kurr remotely produced and directed this film during the pandemic using a South African crew and the What’sApp app to show how researchers used decoys, drones and underwater cameras to count the number of breaches and collect data on hunting techniques to see if the shark population is rebounding.

“It’s basically three researchers who are sort of competing to capture the ultimate breach with the larger purpose of trying to document the amount of great white sharks in a certain area,” Kurr explains. “Due to the lockdown, no one’s been in this area for three months so they’re trying to see if the sharks are taking advantage of that or if they’re still coming into the area.

“And as it turns out,” he adds with a laugh, “it seems like the sharks enjoy it when the people aren’t there. There were plenty of them.”


George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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