Don’t Call Them ‘Shark Attacks,’ Scientists Say

In recent years, researchers and wildlife officials in Australia and the United States have adopted terms such as “bites,” “incidents” and “encounters.” They want the public to do too.

On the beaches of Western Australia, from the crashing waves of California and the blue depths of Hawaii, “shark attacks” are slowly disappearing, at least as a phrase used by researchers and officials, who are reconsidering how to describe the moments when sharks and humans meet.

Last week, two Australian states Drew sharp ridicule When Sydney Morning Herald reported that they were moving away from the phrase in favor of words like “bite,” “incidents” and “encounter.”

Shark scientists have long called for less sensationalist language, saying they are not trying to police anyone’s speech. Instead, he said, they want to change the public’s perception of the animal, whose population has declined by 71 percent since the 1970s, largely from overfishing. They say the disappearance of sharks threatens marine ecosystems and important sources of food.

Officials in some American and Australian states were careful to say that they chose their language for accuracy, not political correctness or pressure from activists.

“The kind of pushback we’re talking about, I can understand as a kind of comical euphemism,” said Katherine MacDonald. a marine conservation biologist and director of field school, a research institute in South Florida. “But I think some of the changes described are really a push toward greater accuracy and detail.”

Dr Macdonald and other scientists said shark bites should be described as bites, but that context matters. There are over 500 species of sharks – small And huge, glowing and spinning – and people meet them swimming, fishing, surfing and doing many other activities.

“There is a real connection between the human imagination of shark attacks and the reality of it,” said director Toby Daly-Engel. Florida Tech Shark Conservation Laboratory. “A lot of what is called a shark attack in society is actually instigated by humans.”

People step on little sharks, which turn and fall off. The diver — and, in at least one case, an Instagram model — has come very close, And the shark has responded. Dr. Daly-Engel said, sometimes unprovoked bites in muddy waters occur when a white shark mistakes a surfer for a seal.

But bites are extraordinarily rare, she said – globally, there are about 70 to 80 unprovoked bites a year, and about five deaths – and sharks usually flee after physical contact with a person.

“A ‘shark attack’ is a story of intent,” said Christopher Pepin-Neff, lecturer in public policy at the University of Sydney. Studied human perceptions of sharks. “But sharks don’t know what people are. They don’t know when you’re in a boat. They don’t know what a propeller is. It’s not an attack.”

In Australia, the Government of Queensland provides guidance To reduce “your risk of a negative encounter with a shark”. Western Australia uses “bite” and “incident” in its alert system and sometimes uses “shark interaction”, usually when there is no bite.

Most unprovoked shark bites have been reported in the United States, where language changes have begun within the past 10 years. For example, fish and wildlife officials in California have reported injuries, deaths and “eventsSince 2017 for cases where sharks touch people or their surfboards, kayaks or other objects. In Hawaii, authorities have used “human-shark encounters” for nearly a decade.

an air official website Note that “dog bites” are called “dog attacks” only in exceptional cases. Dan Dennison, a spokesman for the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, said that whenever he was asked why a shark attacked someone, “My response is always, ‘We don’t know until we’ve interviewed the shark. is.”

One exception to the rebranding trend appears to be Florida, where the Fish and Wildlife Commission website has an “About” section.shark attackA spokeswoman, Carly Jones, said the commission had “nothing to do with the subject.”

Whatever the term used, shark scientists insist that sharks are wild animals and should be treated with caution and respect. The risk of serious bites is exceptionally small – people are more likely to die But shark bites can cause devastating damage – from a bee sting, sunstroke or a bicycle accident.

“For those who have experienced, a shark bite is a deeply traumatic event, and they can feel as though they were attacked,” said Leonardo Guida, a scientist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society. Talking about the language, he said, “opens up the opportunity to take into account what they experienced and ultimately determine what really happened.”

Most of the time when humans are near sharks, however, nothing happens. people often uninformed.

David Schiffman, a marine biologist and author of the book, said, “If you’ve been in the ocean you probably had a shark, and probably knew you were there, even if you didn’t know it was there.”why sharks matterDr. McDonald and a team recently Discovered a Great Hammerhead Nursery off the coast of miami, for example – the first to be found on the Atlantic coast of the United States.

The move away from the word “attack” has led to some criticism, including Founder of Bite Club, a support group for survivors. Fox News hosted Tucker Carlson on Friday Said that if the conditions were adopted“When a great white chews on your leg it’s a ‘negative conversation’.”

But Dr. Schiffman said the words “were not about PC culture run amok.”

“It’s about being precise without being inflammatory,” he said. “Inflammatory coverage makes people afraid of sharks, and could potentially mean less support for their conservation and possibly support for their destruction.”

Thanks to the movie “Jaws” and popular culture like it, sharks got “the bad end of the PR stick,” said Jasmine Graham, president of Minorities in Shark Scientists and a marine biologist at the Motte Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. Fla. “Everybody has this collective negative reaction to them,” she said, “and it’s rooted in the media we consume.”

Chris Lowe, a professor and director of the Shark Lab at California State University in Long Beach, compared the public’s perception of sharks to a popular 19th-century image of whales as “monstrous animals” that “kill people.”

By the 1970s, when whales were hunted to near extinction, public view had changed radically. people Could see footage of whales playing the harp, and the message spread that whales are mammals that raise their young and communicate vocally through clicks, chirps, and songs.

Dr. Lowe said it was “the best rebranding ever”.

“We have a lot of footage of sharks and people together and people not being bitten,” he said. “Then why should we be afraid?”

Still, scientists were not unanimous about the importance of changing public perception.

“Will changing the name to ‘Shark Encounter’ really help the general public have a different perspective? I don’t think so,” said director Gavin Naylor International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida, which differentiates between provokes and bites without reason. “There are people in the general public who call them ‘shark attacks’ all the time and they are environmentalists. It’s just a phrase everyone uses.”

Much more important than language, Dr. Naylor said, was the focus on regulation and preventing overfishing.

Ms Graham said the sharks need both the public and the government, and soon.

“We’re losing sharks so fast that by the time we realize how bad it is, it’s too bad,” she said. “When did we need to start worrying about it? The answer is tomorrow. So we should start work from today itself.”

Maria Kramer Contributed reporting.

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