Shark Week is an annual Discovery Channel tradition, and the network celebrated the institution’s twentieth anniversary with a big Pier 60 party the other night. “We don’t do toaster week or ostrich week,” Discovery host Mike Rowe commented, although “twice as many people died from ostriches as from sharks, 250 died from toasters, and only eight died from sharks. (Somehow we don’t think “Toaster Week” would deliver the same ratings.) We ran into Animal Planet star Jeff Corwin at the party — who famously had a terrifying run-in with an angry elephant — and we asked him about sharks and other scary animals.
Do you have a scary shark story?
I was filming great whites off South Africa, and I was in a dive cage and had a metal helmet on and I ran out of oxygen. It takes about three minutes to take off the helmet — it weighs like 150 pounds, so it takes two people to take it off. I was running out of oxygen, and they were trying to haul me out of a cage and a great white came in and the cage was sinking. I was just like I’ve got to get out and get this off, and I just squirmed out. Someone said, “If you saw what was behind you …; just be glad you didn’t.”
You stay calm in those situations. What’s ended up really scaring you?
The most serious thing that I had physically happen was while doing a story on the poaching of elephants and how elephants are being destroyed in Cambodia. This elephant attacked me and nearly took my arm off. So it was sort of a big deal. He was over my shoulder, and I was with Anderson Cooper and we were talking about these elephants, how they had been rescued. This elephant wasn’t happy that I wasn’t focusing in on him, and he just reached out and grabbed me by my arm and threw me back and forth. It crushed my elbow and caused a lot of damage. But the scariest animal I have ever encountered was hour 21 of my wife’s 29 hours of labor. That was the most terrifying experience. —Shira Levine