Updated: Jul 18, 2022
The recent tragic fatalities resulting from shark bites in Australia, South Africa and the Red Sea again triggered a highly predictable global media frenzy portraying sharks as man-eaters, killers, beasts feeding on humans. The media maintains their stance of portraying sharks as monsters to create sensational headlines which only reinforce the fear of shark attacks. What is completely ignored is the incredibly low probability of such attacks actually happening. Even though statistically shark attacks on humans are incredibly unlikely, when an attack happens it draws enormous attention from the global media. Disproportionate attention.
Thanks to this practice, sharks are feared rather than revered. Global shark encounters with humans result, on average, in 10-12 fatalities per annum. Fatal dog attacks in the US alone cause the deaths of about 30 to 50 people each year, and it is estimated that at least 100 people are killed by horses there during the same period. However, there are few media reports and no campaigns to cull dogs or horses. It would seem the pressure to protect animals depends on how much we love them – and a gross misunderstanding of sharks and the vital role they play in the health of the oceans.
The world media, including social media, need to answer a serious question about how much responsibility they carry for demonizing sharks and some other sea creatures resulting in the global killing of more than 100 million sharks each year.
There is enough evidence to suggest that most shark attacks on humans are unfortunate examples of mistaken identity. Sharks do not kill for fun.
Most people never encounter a shark in their lifetime, yet they are still scared of them mainly because of this sensational and disproportionate attention given them. It is not surprising, therefore, that the public at large does not take the time to think much about shark conservation and protection, let alone to support it to the benefit of all. Fortunately, there are many shark biologists and conservationists out there who do, who are at work to save them from extinction.
The media’s role in shaping public opinion, and the media’s inﬂuence on policy development for shark conservation and protection cannot be underestimated. They could be an important force for good, educating about sharks and supporting efforts to respect and protect them.
We badly need the media to rise to this challenge and assume a positive role in the public and political response to human-shark interactions.