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All guts, no glory for sharks in the news

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Sharks have suffered a lot of bad press—and it may affect their survival.

A new study appearing in the journal Conservation Biology reviews worldwide media coverage of sharks—and the majority isn’t good.

Australian and US news articles were more likely to focus on negative reports featuring sharks and shark attacks rather than conservation efforts.


The issues affecting sharks’ survival are many, including the threat of overfishing (overharvesting sharks for their fins), pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. Sharks are especially vulnerable to these threats due to sharks’ slow growth rates, late age of maturity, long gestation periods, and low reproductive output. View larger. (Credit: Michigan State)

Allowing such articles to dominate the overall news coverage diverts attention from key issues, including the decline of shark populations worldwide and the many species facing extinction, says Meredith Gore, assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife and the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

“The most important aspect of this research is that risks from—rather than to—sharks continue to dominate news coverage in large international media markets,” says Gore, part of the research team led by Bret Muter, formerly at Michigan State and now with the Udall Foundation.

“To the extent that media reflect social opinion, this is problematic for shark conservation.”

According to the study, more than 52 percent of global coverage focused on shark attacks on people, and sharks were portrayed negatively in nearly 60 percent of the coverage. That’s compared to a mere 10 percent featuring shark conservation issues and just 7 percent focusing on shark biology or ecology.

Another interesting fact from the study is who is quoted in the stories. Conservation groups were typically quoted or cited highlighting negative effects on sharks. They weren’t, however, part of stories about shark conservation.

“This suggests that conservation groups are either not being sought out by the media in regards to shark conservation issues or they are not engaging enough to make headlines,” Gore says.

The issues affecting sharks’ survival are many, including the threat of overfishing (overharvesting sharks for their fins), pollution, habitat loss, and climate change. Sharks are especially vulnerable to these threats due to sharks’ slow growth rates, late age of maturity, long gestation periods, and low reproductive output.

One way to improve sharks’ image would be to balance the coverage. Examples of positive articles include highlighting the rarity of attacks, discussing preventive measures water users can take to reduce vulnerability to attacks, and discuss conservation issues related to local and threatened species of sharks, Gore says.

Source: Michigan State University

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