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Troublemakers Will Make it Hard to Change Our Perceptions About Sharks

Did you catch the news story the other day about sharks? The one that confirmed that, when it comes to media coverage about sharks, it’s the troublemakers who get all the attention?

A study published in the current issue of the journal Conservation Biology found that newspapers run many more stories about shark attacks than stories about the need for shark conservation.

It’s no surprise, really. And you can’t blame newspapers. It’s just the way we are, right? Car accidents probably come up more often in your conversations with family or co-workers than about the need to improve safety standards or gas mileage of U.S. automakers.

Here’s how the study worked, according to report published by Live Science:

“A group of researchers examined coverage of sharks in newspapers in the United States and Australia from January 2000 through December 2009. Of 300 articles about sharks randomly selected from this sample, more than half of the coverage was about shark attacks on people. A mere 10 percent of the articles focused on shark conservation issues and just 7 percent centered on shark biology or ecology.

It continued: “In 2011, there were 75 shark attacks reported worldwide, a dozen of which were fatal. Despite these relatively low numbers, the threat sharks pose to humans was emphasized in nearly 60 percent of the articles the researchers analyzed. Meanwhile, far fewer articles discussed shark finning, pollution, habitat loss and other threats to sharks, which are apex predators that help balance ecosystems in the world’s oceans. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins alone.”

In more than half of the 300 stories, the species highlighted were great whites, tiger sharks and bull sharks – the comparatively few species of sharks that tend to bite us. In contrast, just a couple of the 68 species of sharks that are endangered were mentioned at all.

So …. so what?

Well, as long as we continue to view sharks as a threat to us – as opposed to understanding that we are a far greater threat to sharks – we’ll never make progress on changing our behaviors that will help to restore shark populations.

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