This I feel is much of the reason why people fear sharks. This is why Kathryn and I set up Friends for Sharks and why we took the route we did – educating people on what sharks are really like, to enable people to gain some familiarity with these incredible animals. Are they dangerous? Well sure they have the capacity to inflict great harm on us. Do they harm us? Very rarely. On purpose? We suspect not in most cases.

Another excellent example of this theory is the portrayal of sharks in the media. Most mainstream media will hype them up to be scarier than they really are and I understand why – it sells. However we can take a look at how the media in two different countries react to near identical situations:

A few days ago, a fisherman off the SW coast of the UK hooked a 2.5m long Porbeagle shark estimated to weigh approx. 450lb – around 200kg (his son also hooked a smaller one on the same trip). A couple of weeks earlier, two fishermen just off the northern most tip of the New Zealand mainland hooked not one, but 3 White sharks in one night (they were catching Bronze Whaler sharks for a tag and release programme) all of which were either a similar size or larger.

The UK waters are not home to many ‘large’ (let us define this as a species that could open its mouth wide enough to get its teeth around a sausage) shark species and one of those is the Basking Shark which is a filter feeder. As such, the British public are not very familiar with sharks. New Zealand on the other hand has frequent interactions with numerous species of ‘large’ sharks so the public are far more aware of their behaviour and tendencies. I would also suggest that it’s likely a larger percentage of the Kiwi population spend time in the sea than the British.


Becoming familiar with sharks!

Not only was the New Zealand article not splashed about a day after the trip, but the language used is very different. In the UK the shark was touted as being a “Monster”, “gigantic” and it was highlighted that the porbeagle is closely related to the “deadly Great White”. I will credit the article with including that the fisherman and his son consider sharks to be “amazing creatures” and mentioning that porbeagles have been linked with only 3 non-fatal ‘attacks’.

In contrast the article in New Zealand never attaches any negative terms to the sharks and highlights how surprised and “pumped up” the fishermen were by the experience to hook and see (others were spotted) so many white sharks.

These differences are likely due to how the readers would respond. In the UK where people are less familiar with sharks, touting the scary aspect is likely to attract more attention while in NZ this approach would probably gain a bunch of negative comments from readers who are frustrated with the misinformation.

Spread the good word of sharks and if you come across someone who’s scared of them, don’t call them out on it. Ask them why. Help them research sharks from reliable sources and to become more familiar with them for this is the best way to remove fear – and that goes for just about anything else too!

As it happens, between writing this blog article and publishing it, another shark story has popped up courtesy of The Sun. The “Terrifying moment huge 25ft-long shark stalks boat” in which “A family fishing trip suddenly became reminiscent to a scene in Jaws”. Anyone familiar with sharks would recognise this as a Basking Shark which as mentioned above is a filter feeder and is only going to cause problems if you manage to position your [small] boat in their path as it might bump in to you and you could capsize. Again, the article does later mention their ‘gentle giant’ nature but people will still associate the negative words with sharks even after reading the whole article – if indeed they do.