A new study completed in part by Sarasota's Mote Marine Laboratory is taking a bite into the media's "shark attack" reporting.
Researches looked up the term "shark attack" to see how it was used, partially to see why Florida has such an online presence of being the "Shark Attack Capital of the World."
Maybe "Land Shark Capital of the U.S.," but that's for another story.
The study says that the Sunshine State recorded 11 fatal bites over the past 129 years — lower than other parts of the world. And here in Tampa Bay, the Lightning Capital of North America, you're more likely to be struck by a bolt than a bull shark. Or any shark at all.
“Not all shark ‘attacks’ are created equal, and we certainly shouldn't call bites on kayaks and bites on people the same thing," says Christopher Neff, a doctoral candidate conducting the first study on policy responses to shark bites at the University of Sydney in Australia.
And not every encounter with a shark is like the movie Jaws, with its laughable gigantic shark. Universal Studios in Orlando took out the Jaws ride last year, so maybe it's time for the media to move on from outdated pop culture references that weren't so accurate in the first place. (That movie was released in 1975!)
“Few sharks look like the large great whites you might see on the movie screen; of about 500 shark species on earth, most grow to less than 3 feet long," says Dr. Robert Hueter, who leads Mote Marine Laboratory's Center for Shark Research in Sarasota. "In addition, most shark species rarely, if ever, come into contact with humans. When they do, serious bites are the extremely rare exception rather than the rule.”
The study said all that has fed into the pop culture shark legends. The study reviewed Associated Press articles in Florida during 2001 — known as the “Summer of the Shark” because of shark incidents ranging from minor to severe — and found that 79 percent of these stories used “attack” in the headline, even in the case of non-serious injuries.
The report hasn't spread to other outlets, including to fellow Patch sites, as a story on West Hampton Patch shouts: Real-Life 'Jaws' Arrives in the Hamptons
To be fair, an organization called OCEARCH had tracked a great white shark off of Long Island, and the shark was even recorded to be in St. Augustine right here in Florida back on Jan. 9, according to the report.
And even the OSEARCH folks themselves want to dispell the Jaws myth, OSEARCH founding chairman Chris Fischer told West Hampton Patch:
"We hope people become more enlightened and a conversation is started, especially since we opened up this tracker for the world to see," Fischer said. "When we think of a great white, we usually think of 'Jaws' music, but now people are asking what is she doing? Where is she going?"
Part of the study even showed that out of 200 "attacks" in New South Wales, Australia, 38 caused injuries.
“Nor should we equate the single bite of a 2-foot shark on a surfer’s toe with the fatal bite of a 15-foot shark on a swimmer, but that’s how the current language treats these incidents,” said Hueter.
This is how the media should report shark interaction stories from now on, according to the study:
- "Shark sightings: Sightings of sharks in the water in proximity to people with no physical contact.
- Shark encounters: No bite takes place and no humans are injured, but physical contact occurs with a person or an inanimate object holding a person, such as a surfboard or boat. A shark might also bump a swimmer and its rough skin might cause a minor abrasion.
- Shark bites: Bites by small or large sharks that result in minor to moderate injuries.
- Fatal shark bites: One or more bites causing fatal injuries. The authors caution against using the term “shark attack” unless the motivation and intent of the shark are clearly established by experts, which is rarely possible"
In Florida, the 637 confirmed cases of unprovoked shark “attacks” since 1882 would be reclassified as 11 fatal bites and 626 other interactions including bites, encounters, and a small fraction of sightings, according to the study.
The study was published this week in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, and caled “Science, policy, and the public discourse of shark ‘attack’: a proposal for reclassifying human–shark interactions.” Download the article at: http://rd.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13412-013-0107-2.
Neff and Hueter write that it's time for better shark reporting and policies.
“In short, this is a call to scientists, public officials, and the media to reconsider their discourse on the subject of sharks and to improve the accuracy of information provided to the public.”