Shark Week host Forrest Galante is helping change hearts and minds about nature's most feared predator
Forrest Galante will never forget the first time he ever saw a shark in person. "I was 7 or 8 years old and was snorkeling with my grandfather," the outdoor adventure TV personality told Upworthy. "We were in Mozambique where I grew up and I was holding my grandfather's hand underwater as he guided me. It was a small reef shark. What seemed like this huge animal appeared out of nowhere, racing through the darkness and suddenly I was looking into its beautiful eyes. I was in awe but I also think I grabbed my granddad's hand just a little bit tighter."
25 years later, Galante, is a world-renowned conversation activist who hosts the Extinct or Alive program on Animal Planet. He has interacted with some of the planet's most intriguing and intimidating creatures but it's hard to think of a living creature that has more powerfully captured our collective imagination than sharks.
This year, Galante is hosting his schedule special as part of the legendary Shark Week series. In tonight's episode, Galante travels to the northeast coast of South Africa, the "Land of the Lost Sharks," where he looks to find the Pondicherry, a species of shark believed to have gone extinct decades ago.
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On exploring the remove Maldives beach, where it's believed most wildlife there has never interacted with humans:
"It's phenomenal. It's like getting into a time capsule. Must as I love Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, the sharks there see divers 10 times a day. Here, you're seeing what the ocean was like hundreds of years ago. Before there was plastic floating on it. You really experience this feeling that anything can happen."
On being part of the Shark Week legacy:
"It's fantastic. The series is literally the same age as I am, 32. I have grown up with Shark Week. It's something I've tuned in for literally my entire life. It's kind of the Super Bowl of wildlife shows on television. Although I'd argue it's much bigger than the Super Bowl because we're talking about creatures who are literally older than trees themselves and are now being pushed to the brink of extinction."
With most people stuck at home and looking for content that transports their imaginations out of the living room, what's different about Shark Week this year?
"This style of entertainment is arguably more important than ever. It allows people who are stuck on their couch to participate in and promote conservation. It's also harder than ever. I was supposed to be in 14 counties this year and instead, I've been to 2. I think a common misconception is that the coronavirus has been entirely beneficial for wildlife. In reality, it's a double-edged sword. In some cases, wildlife is thriving. On the flip side, with governments being shut down and nobody able to enforce anti-poaching, we're seeing a massive uptick. In Peru, you can go to a wet market to buy a yellow-footed tortoise to "cure" coronavirus. So, I think part of what's important about Shark Week this year, beyond entertainment, is reminding people of how precious this environment is."
What's different to you about sharks vs. other wildlife you've interacted with?
"Life is incredible. Whether it's a snail under a rock or a tiger shark swimming at you. We're bipedal creatures meant to be on land. You have a lot of control there, you're in a comfort zone. When you're in the water, you're living in an alien world. You're in their habitat. It's a three-dimensional space where we don't belong. Sharks always bring a thrill to working with them. They're an apex predator, they've been around a long time. At the same time, they're disappearing. They've been targeted at an incredibly alarming rate."
Everyone talks about the negative impact "Jaws" had on people's attitudes toward sharks. With things like Shark Week, have you seen any positive changes in people's perception of sharks?
"20 years ago, the perception was if you got in the water with a shark the thought was you're going to die. Now, there's a cool factor. On places like Instagram, there are bragging rights to working with the animals, going in the water with them. The common understanding has completely shifted. All these people having beautiful, stunning interactions with these creatures. Fear will only lead to destruction. Sharks aren't meant to be feared, they're just to be respected."