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'Shark Week' 2014 features more technology, gadgetry and big great whites (+video)

Published: Friday, Aug. 8 2014 2:10 p.m. MDT

A great white shark coming out of the water in South Africa.

Chris Fallows, Discovery Channel

Dickie Chivell doesn't have a lot of fear when it comes to sharks. But he did have a theory, which is why he ended up on a flimsy-looking homemade decoy while multiple great white sharks swam below him.

Chivell, a young man who grew up in the fishing town of Gansbaai, South Africa, suspected that male great white sharks could be lured to the surface by a female decoy. So he built a 14-foot contraption, named Parthenope after a siren from Greek mythology, that mimicked the movement of a female great white. Chivell convinced Jeff Kurr and Chris Fallows, who were in Gansbaai working on a documentary for "Shark Week," to let him test his theory out on camera.

The scene plays out in "Air Jaws: Fin of Fury," which premieres Aug. 10 at 9 p.m. (MDT) on the Discovery Channel and kicks off the new programming for "Shark Week" 2014.

As Chivell pilots the decoy across the water surface, the great whites grow in numbers and start to show aggressive behavior. "Dickie (Chivell), this is not looking good, man," says Kurr, who is watching from the boat.

“I like people who have a passion for sharks, and he has no fear at all," said Kurr, who has been producing "Shark Week" specials since 1991. “Although I was nervous about him, I thought if anyone can do this and pull it off, it would be Dickie.”

Kurr and Fallows have done their share of improvising and risk-taking while filming the "Air Jaws" series, which began in 2001. In fact, Chivell said he was inspired by the filmmakers' own "whack contraptions." Among those is the "seal sled" Kurr was laying on when a massive great white breached, or jumped out of the water, just feet away from him in 2011.

In addition to Parthenope, "Shark Week" 2014 will introduce more inventions and gadgetry — from "sharkcam" to "shark spy" to "fincam" — designed to get the perfect shot. It's all part of the technology and ingenuity employed to give viewers something they haven't seen in the previous 26 seasons of "Shark Week."

The perfect shot Kurr was seeking in "Air Jaws: Fin of Fury" was one shark in particular — a 14-foot male the team encountered off Seal Island in South Africa while filming "Air Jaws Apocalypse." The shark, which they named Colossus, followed the boat around for two weeks.

When Kurr took to the seal sled in an effort to film a breaching great white up close, it was Colossus who attacked the decoy. Kurr remembers "looking up and seeing this giant white belly flying over the top of me.”

But the shark, which has a distinctive dorsal fin, disappeared soon after that. "Air Jaws: Fin of Fury" chronicles a two-year journey across an ocean to find Colossus.

"He was a real camera hog," Kurr said. "We just grew to really become fond of him. That’s why it was so weird for us when he completely disappeared. Being so close to Colossus, being closer to a breaching white shark than any human ever has before, that made him special to me personally. A lot of the show is a personal journey for me.

“I’ve always been attracted to the uniqueness that is Colossus. … Maybe it’s because he didn’t crush me on the seal sled.”

The team starts the search off Seal Island — lethal but special waters where great whites leap above the surface while hunting. Colossus was the "dominant shark there," according to Kurr.

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