American Oceans

New Research Shows You’re More Scared of Sharks Than You Should Be

a closeup of a hammerhead shark

Sharks often receive negative attention and exaggerated portrayals in films and media, enhancing the public fear towards these creatures. Popular movies like “Jaws,” “The Meg,” or “The Shallows” often depict sharks maliciously hunting humans, creating a phenomenon called “The Jaws Effect.” This widespread, irrational fear of sharks continues to shape people’s perceptions and hinder conservation efforts, even 50 years after the release of “Jaws.” Such fears also influence safety measures and regulations, including banning sea-based water activities for schools, which can negatively impact children’s understanding of beach safety and conservation efforts.

In a recent study, researchers discovered that sharks are overrepresented in “creature features,” a subgenre of films where creatures are the villains. This study found that 96% of films that feature sharks depict shark-human interactions as threatening. This disproportionate representation has a lasting effect on the public’s perception of sharks and their interactions with humans.

It is important to consider that many species of sharks have declined by over 70% in the past 50 years, with one in three species now facing the threat of extinction. Despite the infrequency of shark attacks compared to drownings, reactions to shark sightings are often amplified due to the fear generated by media portrayals.

Safety measures such as aerial shark patrols can help protect beachgoers while maintaining a balanced approach to ocean access. However, bans on aquatic activities, while well-intentioned, can hinder the development of vital water safety skills in children and potentially instill a deep-rooted fear and misunderstanding of the ocean and sharks. Such decisions can also have an impact on communities, businesses, and the tourism industry, affecting the perception of beaches and overall marine safety.

Collaboration with education departments and water safety units, supported by informed decisions based on data and research, is essential to promoting responsible ocean activities and a balanced understanding of shark-human interactions. Ultimately, this approach can contribute to a more accurate public perception and appreciation of sharks, much-needed conservation efforts, and safe ocean experiences.

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