Despite backlash over its shift towards more sensational programming, the Discovery Channel's "Shark Week" kicked off last Sunday to its highest ratings ever, bringing in close to 4 million viewers and saturating social media. Coupled with the popularity of "Sharknado," sharks have once again become a big part of pop culture — and to the alarm of some marine conservationists, a celebrated item on the menus of restaurants. 

"It's opportunistic," Sean Van Sommeran, founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz told NPR. "[Restaurants] are using the celebrity of sharkism to sell more tacos than they normally would."

As reporter Alastair Bland points out, the trend appears to primarily be impacting the shortfin mako shark, which is prized for its meat and is the most popular of all shark species consumed. Bland found menus from restaurants in Philadelphia, Phoenix, Chicago and St. Louis to name only a few — all celebrating Shark Week with shark meat specials. According to NOAA, current levels of catch in the North Atlantic are "considered sustainable," while organizations like Seafood Watch continue to urge consumers to avoid all wild sharks "except common thresher and shortfin mako from California and Hawaii."

Naturally, it's difficult for consumers to know exactly where their seafood is being sourced — and with an estimated 70 to 100 million sharks killed each year, it's likely a good idea to avoid shark altogether. And, according to WildAid founder Peter Knights, perhaps even "Shark Week" itself.  

"I think Shark Week does more damage to sharks than eating the occasional shark in a restaurant," Knights told NPR. "Shark Week is all about vilifying sharks. They always have about 20 shows about shark attacks and none about what's happening to shark populations."

So remember: the best way to love sharks is to save sharks by not contributing to their demise. You can find some handy alternatives and less-threatened species by checking out Seafood Watch's Buyer's Guide here. If you still need help curbing your appetite, this infographic is always a startling reminder. 

Related on MNN: 

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Discovery's 'Shark Week' sparks hunger for shark meat
To the ire of conservationists, more restaurants are marking the annual event with recipes featuring shark meat.