Shark Week's Tom "Blowfish" Hird Talks Cocaine Sharks and Great White Fight Club

Tom "Blowfish" Hird opens up about his new Shark Week specials for Discovery.

One of the most talked-about movies of the year was Cocaine Bear, which was based on the true story of the discovery of a black bear who seemingly died of a cocaine overdose. The incident was only one facet of a drug-running operation, but in the new Shark Week special Cocaine Sharks, marine biologist Tom "Blowfish" Hird aims to uncover whether sharks in select regions could be tempted to similarly ingest cocaine and the impact it would have on these ecosystems. Hird also appears in Great White Fight Club, which premiered earlier this week and is now streaming on Max. Cocaine Sharks premieres on Discovery on Wednesday, July 26th at 10 p.m.

In Cocaine Sharks, "For decades, rumors of cocaine-fueled sharks have spread throughout the fishing community. Shark expert Tom Hird travels to the Florida Keys to investigate what happens when the sharks come in contact with the most notorious drug on the planet." In Great White Fight Club, "A team of experts venture into the treacherous waters of New Zealand to provide groundbreaking evidence that female white sharks unequivocally dominate the ocean, reigning as the ultimate controllers of its fierce battlegrounds." caught up with Hird to talk the new specials, what was learned from the process, and what the future holds for Shark Week.

(Photo: Discovery) I think the first, most important thing that I got to ask you, talking about Cocaine Sharks, you're the host of Cocaine Sharks. Did you get the name "Blowfish" before or after hosting the show?

Tom "Blowfish" Hird: Before. But it's a shame, we filmed a fabulous intro that was a cross between Miami Vice, Don Johnson, and Dukes of Hazzard that we were hoping was going to be the start of Cocaine Sharks. I think it's going to be going out as a social media one instead. Maybe, I don't know, keep an eye on that. But no, I am the Blowfish, the world's only heavy-metal marine biologist. And the only drug I need is sharks, and beer, but that doesn't count.

Brings the term "drinking like a fish" to a new definition.

I have put many a man and a woman under the table. I don't mess around. I'm from Yorkshire, mate, we know how to put it down.

Another really important question is, with some of the other specials on Shark Week, they focus on one specific shark. With you, you get to deal with great whites, you also get to deal with the cocaine sharks, the sharks in that certain area. But of all the shark species, do you have a favorite species of shark?


Is that the end of the interview? Too controversial?

No, no, it's fine. It's tricky because the great white is very, very, very cool. It just is. Everything about it is tip-top business, right? I would say that was my favorite shark. But as the kids would say, my "heart shark" is actually the tasselled wobbegong, because they've got these fabulous beards, just like me. They sit on the bottom of the ocean with these big old beards, and they actually use their tails to lure fish towards them. And then they can strike and catch a fish so quickly that the other fish can't see it in time.

So they don't know that, they're swimming along in a shoal. Bang! And they're like, "Where's Dave? Oh, nevermind. Well, carry on." They don't realize Dave's been munched. Tasselled wobbegong, that's my heart shark. But I love all sharks, there isn't a shark I don't like. They're all top dollar. 

And the wobbegongs especially are just so weird. Because you hear "shark," so many people think of the obligate ram ventilators, they have to keep swimming to stay alive. And so just to be like, no, plenty of them can just hang out and chill, and then bite you.

Yeah. We know so little about our deep ocean areas that most of our shark species are going to be in the deep ocean. And I say that because we haven't discovered them all yet. It's only the sharks that are caning up and down the highways and byways of the ocean that bother with the ram ventilation. Otherwise, quite a lot of them just sit on the floor and just chill. And why not?

Yeah, why not? It's a great question. Why waste the energy?


Between both Cocaine Sharks and Great White Fight Club, you get much snappier titles for your specials. You could say they sink their teeth into the audience from titles alone. With these programs, how tightly are you involved in the development of these shows? Is it that Discovery comes to you, pitches some ideas and you workshop it? Do you come to Discovery with these ideas that you really want the research and they have the funds to bring them to life?

Well, first things first: Great White Fight Club, that is very much the show of my fabulous friend, Michelle Jewell. She is just amazing. She knows way more about sharks than I do, and she's awesome. That was her baby, and she gave me a bell and she said, "Look, Fish, going to do this, going to do that. What do you reckon?" I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's good." And I said, "Well, look, I've tried this before." In that kind of scenario, Michelle had the idea and we talked it through for the bits that I was involved with. She then fed that back. 

In terms of Cocaine Sharks, which I'm very privileged to be hosting on that one, the guys at Ping Pong Productions came to me and said, "Look, we've got this mad idea called 'Cocaine Sharks.' This is the background of it. We need someone who's crazy enough and hairy enough to make it work." And I said, "Well, I'm your man." I'm certainly crazy enough. And, well, it's getting a little bit thinner [on top], but I think [my beard] makes up for it. 

In that case, Ping Pong, they were great. Why have a dog and bark yourself, as they say? So I could talk to them exactly about what we needed to do. Certainly with everything we did on Cocaine Sharks, because of the time limits we've got and the resources that we have, we had to look at behavior. Which I thankfully have got a lot of experience in, and a lot of studying. That was the best thing to do in that scenario. They were really, really good on that side of things. And, as always, as a marine biologist and ambassador for multiple charities and such, I'm quite happy to say, "No, we're not saying that. This isn't good enough." Or, "That's not true, this is." And that is the benefit, of course, of being a marine biologist working in ocean conservation and ocean science for however many years.

I'd rather get it right for the sharks than get another five minutes of screen time for me, because it's just not about me. So working with Ping Pong, it was fabulous working with Michelle, always a pleasure. I enjoyed it all. 

Looking towards the future, Shark Week 2024, and then taking into account the research and everything you learned from these two specials this year, is there dream project that you are now inspired to pursue, maybe not necessarily a direct sequel or anything to either of your specials this year, but just taking everything you've learned and now looking to the future?

Well, I think that, as far as Cocaine Sharks is concerned, we are talking about what could potentially be a decade's-worth of scientific, peer-reviewed study into the way that pharmaceuticals are affecting our coastal seas. And great whites get into our coastal seas. It's a huge conversation to be had there. But also, there has to be a certain amount of entertainment. No one wants to see me in a lab pipetting for two hours, that's not going to be fun. 

I want to do "Viking Shark" for no other reason than, well, they'll say, "What's Viking Shark?" I'll say, "Well, it's me diving in Norway." And they'll be like, "That doesn't..." "I said it's me diving in Norway." And then we just go with it and just don't tell anyone. And then at the end they're like, "What do we prove?" And I'd be like, "What?" And you just play it out. 

That's how we do. I'm always interested in the next story, and we just have to wait and see what comes along, as far as Discovery is concerned.

Well, and if there's Cocaine Sharks 2, I can hop down. I can just drive the boat. I can be a sidekick. 

And you've got the mustache, as well. Cocaine Shark 2: The Second Nostril. That's what we'll call it. 

Cocaine Sharks premieres on Discovery on Wednesday, July 26th at 10 p.m.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.