WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) – Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps knows how to take a bite out of the competition – at least when he’s racing against humans. But next month he’ll square off against the largest predatory fish known to man: a great white shark.
The race between the world’s most-decorated Olympian (Phelps has won 28 Olympic medals in five games – 23 gold, three silver, two bronze) and the star of “Jaws” will take place on July 23 at 8 p.m. Eastern time to kick off Discovery Channel’s summer staple, “Shark Week.”
Discovery is billing the event as “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White.” The network said in a press release Thursday, “They are one of the fastest and most efficient predators on the planet: Sharks. He is our greatest champion to ever get in the water: Michael Phelps. 39 world records. 23 Olympic golds. But he has one competition left to win. An event so monumental no one has ever attempted it before.”
Great whites top out at 15 miles per hour, National Geographic reports. The shortfin mako shark, which Discovery says can swim up to 60 miles per hour, is the fastest shark in existence. According to ESPN, Phelps has reached a top speed of 6 miles per hour in the pool.
The Olympian will also get “up close and personal with the incredible power of a great white” in “Shark School with Michael Phelps” at 8 p.m. Eastern on July 30. Discovery says he’ll join “Doc Gruber and Tristan Guttridge of the Bimini Shark Lab to get a crash course on everything ‘shark.’ They’ll dispel the myths and common misconceptions, teach him how to safely dive with sharks – including how to stay calm when a hammerhead swims two feet above his face.”
Great whites are classified as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, due to “directed exploitation such as sports-fishing, commercial trophy-hunting, the curio trade, the oriental shark-fin trade and even the public aquarium trade.”
According to National Geographic, “of the 100-plus annual shark attacks worldwide, fully one-third to one-half are attributable to great whites. However, most of these are not fatal, and new research finds that great whites, who are naturally curious, are ‘sample biting’ then releasing their victims rather than preying on humans.”
“Shark Week” airs July 23-30.