Sharks Get A Bad Rap In The Media
November 8, 2012

Media Coverage Of Sharks Focuses More On Attacks Than Conservation

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The treatment of sharks in the media and popular culture has been historically rather harsh. A new study from Michigan State University reveals that this negative image is affecting their survival.

The findings of this study, published in the current issue of Conservation Biology, reviewed worldwide media coverage of sharks and found that the majority isn't good.

News articles from the U.S. and Australia are more likely to focus on negative reports and shark attacks rather than conservation efforts, and according to the study, allowing such articles to dominate the media coverage diverts attention from key issues. Such issues include declining worldwide shark populations and certain species that are facing extinction, says Meredith Gore, MSU assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice.

“The most important aspect of this research is that risks from — rather than to — sharks continue to dominate news coverage in large international media markets,” said Gore, part of the research team led by Bret Muter, formerly at MSU and now with the Udall Foundation. “To the extent that media reflect social opinion, this is problematic for shark conservation.”

The numbers are bleak. More than 52 percent of global coverage focuses on shark attacks, and in 60 percent of coverage, sharks are portrayed negatively. Compared to a tiny 10 percent coverage featuring shark conservation efforts and 7 percent focusing on shark biology and ecology, these numbers are disproportionate. Another strange factor the study revealed is that conservation groups are typically quoted or cited highlighting the negative effects on sharks, but not in stories about shark conservation.

“This suggests that conservation groups are either not being sought out by the media in regards to shark conservation issues or they are not engaging enough to make headlines,” Gore said.

There are many issues affecting shark survival, including the threat of overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and climate change. Sharks' slow-growth rates, late age of maturity, long gestation periods and low reproductive output make shark populations especially vulnerable.

Balancing the coverage would be one way to improve the image of sharks, says the study. Highlighting the rarity of attacks, discussing preventive measures water users can take to reduce vulnerability to attacks, and discussing conservation issues related to local and threatened species of sharks, Gore said, would go a long way towards improving their image and their overall survival rate.

There are many shark conservation groups worldwide. Following are a few of the major groups:

1. Pew Environment Group - Global Shark Conservation

2. Monterrey Bay Aquarium - Great White Shark Conservation

3. Shark Trust in the UK

4. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)