Why we have to stop talking about sharks like they're monsters

The media is awash with "shark attack" stories. Mick Fanning is safe and unhurt. But will sharks come away from this unscathed?

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LAST UPDATED: 24 July 2015

Unless you've been living in the depths of the South Atlantic Ocean, you'll have noticed that the media is having a field day with surfer Mick Fanning's encounter with a shark on the weekend.

Tuesday's front page headline on the Herald Sun read "I BEAT JAWS".

i-beat-jaws.jpg

Firstly, it's great news that Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson are safe. Secondly, this headline — and much of the media's portrayal of this incident — is shark poo. Here's how the story should have been written up based on the surfer's retelling of what happened:

Shark gets tangled in surfer's leg rope. Surfer pulled out of water unharmed.

Experts who have studied Great Whites stalking seals say that when these sharks attack they move at speeds of up to 40 km p/h, coming up quickly and precisely from depths of 8-14 metres below their prey. The shark in this footage with Mick Fanning is seen swimming around on the surface before bumping into the surfer. See for yourself:

There's no doubt that had this shark wanted to he could've seriously hurt Fanning. But sharks are very curious animals and — surprise, surprise — they live in the ocean. Surfers are not blind to the fact that they're paddling around in the natural habitat of a wide variety of marine animals, including sharks.

By all appearances, it was a situation where a White shark was coming up for an investigation of the situation. The fact that there was no bite suggests that the animal was simply there to check it out, to see what was going on.George Burgess, Curator of the International Shark Attack File (ISAF)

Sadly, however this will still go on record as an incidence of a shark attack as by the ISAF definition a shark attack is any instance where contact between a human and shark was made. Does this seem odd to you? If a dog came up to you in the park, would people shout "dog attack"?

And on top of that, many media outlets have decided that they'd rather tell this story:

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A scene from the 1975 'Jaws' film

The problem is that sensationalised stories like this put sharks at risk. Already there are those who want Great White sharks to have their protected status revoked and for more "diligent management" (also known as shark culls) to happen. Only last year, caring Aussies spoke up to protect sharks, resulting in a cull in WA being scrapped, saving the lives of countless sharks. Why? Because sharks are a crucial part of the ocean ecosystem. What's more, there's no evidence to suggest that bloody culls make beaches any safer. In fact, there are many surfers who are amongst the most vocal in their support of protecting sharks.

But while the media goes on a joy ride to demonise sharks, it's great to see that at least the internet is thinking about things from the other side of the story:

mick-fanning-shark-attack-meme.jpg

If you love sharks, and don't want them to be portrayed as the flesh-hungry beasts of horror movies, you might like to write a letter to the editor of your local paper and share your thoughts. We've got some great tips to get you started.

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This story was originally published on Unleashed — Animals Australia's youth movement. We join forces with artists and young people to build a kinder future for animals. Find out more about Unleashed.


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