Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Big Little Lies ends its run, plus we asked an expert about the World’s Biggest Great White

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep
Photo: Merie W. Wallace (HBO)

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Sunday, July 21. All times are Eastern. 

Top pick

Big Little Lies (HBO, 9 p.m.): “The Monterey Five, whatever we call ourselves—the lie is the friendship.” Well, that doesn’t sound great.

It’s almost certain, given both the improbability of the existence of this season and the significant off-screen problems, that this is the end of the road for the women of Monterey. It’s a season finale, but in reality, it’s really a series finale (though to be fair, that was true last time, too). There are lies, they are both large and small, and in this climactic episode, they will either die in the purifying light of truth or live on and keep festering. Whichever it is, you can bet it will be dramatic, and Gwen Ihnat will recap it all.


Regular coverage

Veronica Mars (Hulu, recaps running throughout the weekend and into Monday)

Wild card

World’s Biggest Great White? (Nat Geo and Nat Geo Wild, 8 p.m.): This is one of those “wow, that’s bonkers” stories that somehow, improbably, ended up on camera. Three wildlife photographers were off the coast of Hawaii, photographing the predators that turned up to feast on the carcass of a dead sperm whale. Then a very famous, very large shark showed up.

The A.V. Club spoke with Dr. Christopher Lowe, head of the shark lab at California State University in Long Beach and one of the scientists behind World’s Biggest Great White about the legendary Deep Blue, human fascination with sharks, and what non-shark animals make him sweat.

The A.V. Club: What is it about sharks that you think human beings find so fascinating?

Chris Lowe: Well, I think it’s the mystery, right? It’s an animal that we don’t really know much about. It’s a predator, and I think that the fear factor gets people interested in sharks, but after they learn more about them, the more interested they get.


AVC: Your research is focused specifically on movement behavior and physiology in sharks, rays, and game fishes. What’s one thing about shark behavior specifically that you wish more people knew?

CL: [One thing] we’re just starting to get a feel for now, based on all this new technology, is that sharks, particularly white sharks, are really kind of unique. They’re kind of the high-performance cheetah of the ocean world. They’re amazing animals. They sleep—they actually go into a resting state, and we have some new data that shows kind of how they do that; they go on [a kind of] autopilot—and then they are able to cover a huge, huge amount of ground, and swim very straight lines for long periods of time without seeing the surface, and without seeing the bottom. They have a built-in electromagnetic compass in their heads. These are all the things that we’re learning about them that we just didn’t know before.


The other thing is, we know that they’re out in the environments quite often where people are, along beaches. We now know where they are. Most people don’t see them, but they’re amongst people, and they’re not bothering anybody.

AVC: What are the odds that three photographers going to the carcass of a sperm whale would stumble upon this incredible, storied shark?

CL: If they were out there diving just on their own, no whale, I think the probability would have been practically zero. When you add a dead whale to the formula, then suddenly the probability goes up. And the reason is it’s a free meal. Imagine this giant buffet floating around up that’s creating this waft of odor. What’s amazing is to be able to bring in three white sharks like that [Deep Blue and two others]. So while we know that sharks leave the California coast and Mexican coast and go out into the middle of the Pacific, and occasionally move along the Hawaiian islands, to see three sharks like that is simply amazing. The secret sauce is really the dead whale. That’s ringing the dinner bell.


AVC: If you were to try to summarize Deep Blue’s story, based on what little we know about her, what would it be?

CL: It’s the story of a survivor. She’s been around a long time. When you think of all the things that Deep Blue might’ve encountered throughout her life—fishing nets, hooks, predators like orcas—the fact that she’s still around is truly amazing. She’s a survivor.

AVC: And she might be 100 years old?

CL: So here’s the tricky part: We don’t know how old sharks actually get, and it’s really hard to age a shark. The methods that scientists have used to do that are kind of like counting rings in a tree. If we have a dead shark and we can look at their vertebrae. They lay down rings of calcium in the cartilage as they grow from year to year. And the methods that researchers have used to estimate age are based on radioactive carbon that got into the atmosphere when we were testing atomic bombs around the world. So that atomic carbon gets into the calcium that year, and that becomes a marker that we can use to count how many rings since then. The tricky part about Deep Blue is that Deep Blue is much bigger than the sharks that researchers had to use to make those counts. So she could be anywhere between 45 and 100 years old. We just don’t know.


AVC: How often is she spotted?

CL: So far, this is only the second sighting that I know of. The first time was in Guadalupe in 2013, and and now in 2018 off of Oahu. The tricky part about identifying these sharks is that you have to recognize their unique characteristics, and you need good photographs and good video, like in the show, to be able to go through and say, “Ah, I know who this is.”


AVC: How do you think television events like Nat Geo’s Shark Fest, or Discovery’s Shark Week, impact our culture and understanding of sharks?

CL: It’s mostly positive. Nat Geo does a great job at getting good, solid scientific information out there, and minimizing the hype. Discovery definitely takes advantage of the fear factor that comes with sharks. So it’s harder to get people to understand that sharks aren’t the mindless biting machines that they are made out to be, that they’re actually unique and important animals that we need to strive to protect. So I think Nat Geo has done a great job of showing people the true nature of sharks and getting them interested and excited about them just because they’re such cool animals.


AVC: What animal do you find most personally frightening, on a visceral level?

CL: Humans! They’re smart! They work in groups, and they’re industrious. That’s one of the things that makes people so frightening. In terms of animals, I don’t really view sharks as being dangerous. They’re just another animal that will do what it needs to do to eat and to protect itself. As for why they occasionally bite people, we don’t really know the underlying reasons, but by and large, when you look at how many people are in the ocean and how many sharks are now in the ocean—the population is coming back, which is a success story—the fact that more people aren’t bitten clearly shows that we are not on their menu.


But personally? I am not a fan of snakes. Something about them gives me the creeps. But with that said, the more I learn about snakes, the less I fear.

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