May 30, 2022 3:05:57 PM | 7 Min Read

The Shark Misinterpretation

Posted By
Sierra Stirnkorb
The Shark Misinterpretation

How the Media Has Negatively Represented Them

 If you are afraid of sharks do not worry, you are not alone. Many people let this "man-eater" fear keep them from diving, but I hope that once you have read my shark blog series, your galeophobia- the fear of sharks-will lighten. 

Jaws is the only movie most people have seen. 

Even though Jaws is a movie about a shark attack, most of the information that people know about sharks is from the way they are portrayed in this film. Jaws is considerably one of the best movies of all time, but it has a lot more to do with Hollywood than science. Many people assume that sharks are a dangerous species because of this movie and believe the aggressive behavior presented in it to be exact. This is false since Jaws was created to be scary and entertaining, not factual, or educational. 

Most people have seen Jaws, the 1975 film about a shark attack in a small town. The movie is one of the most popular and recognizable movies ever made, but it is also a major reason sharks are feared. Jaws has created an inaccurate perception of most types of sharks, which are not vicious fish hungry for human blood. The movie portrays sharks as looking to eat humans because that is what makes for great suspenseful cinema. These false representations scare people away from going into the water leading them to believe that all sharks are out to get them. 

How the media describes shark attacks 
When describing a shark attack, the media often uses words like 'brutal' and 'savage.' These are negative words that make it seem like the shark is actively trying to hurt someone. This is not true—the shark is just trying to eat. The reason they bite humans is that they want to figure out what something tastes like. After one bite, if something does not taste good, the shark will not eat it at all! The media also makes shark attacks seem quite common, but, about four people die per year from sharks. Meanwhile, many people die each year from bees or cows! The sad thing is that humans kill way more sharks than sharks kill people—about one hundred million each year. Sharks are killed by accidental catch, finning purposes, and are even targeted and caught as a sport by fishermen. 

The media’s portrayal of sharks & the influence on human perspectives 

The media plays a huge role in how the public perceives sharks, and as a result, sharks are being killed because of it. Unless you have taken a marine biology course or have become interested in sharks, you probably know more about sharks from television than you do from real-life experiences. While there is no doubt that the media has allowed people to learn more about nature, there are several ways in which they have misrepresented both nature and its creatures. 

In the case of shark attacks, only the rarest and sensational attacks are reported on by mainstream media—and even then, it is usually during prime-time hours or when news outlets want to boost viewership or sales. While these attacks may be rare and sensational, overall shark attacks on humans are extremely uncommon. If one compares the number of times, we interact with sharks to the number of humans that die from dog bites each year (which is around 30), there is no reason to fear getting into the water with sharks—especially since many species will go out of their way to avoid human contact. 

The media has been notorious for using sensationalism to boost ratings by reporting rare instances of shark attacks and deaths. A recent article reports that "Shark attacks are statistically rare - averaging around 80 reported worldwide each year" (source: Compare this with other daily occurrences such as car accidents, which according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration resulted in "an average of 6 million crashes each which 3 million people are injured." (Source: Very rarely does the news report on car accidents or drownings but when it comes to shark-related incidents, we hear about them constantly! This kind of thing causes panic and overreaction because many people forget just how unlikely a shark attack is! 

Shark movies 

By far, the most damaging shark portrayal has been Jaws. The first-ever shark movie that was incredibly successful at the box office—but it was so successful that sharks became the go-to villains in film and on TV, and they still are to this day. 

Some of the more notable shark movies: 

  • Sharknado – a tornado hits Los Angeles, but not before sharks fly and eat people. Naturally. 
  • Sharktopus – a half-octopus, half shark hybrid creature that eats people on land and in water. 
  • Shark Attack – a scientist genetically modifies sharks to make them stronger than other fish so they can kill humans for food. 
  • Deep Blue Sea – scientists experiment with varied species of sharks to increase their intelligence for medicinal research purposes, but it backfires when the super smart sharks become self-aware. The super smart sharks then kill all the humans who decided to test their intelligence experiments in an abandoned building located in the middle of nowhere instead of at a facility designed for testing experiments like that. 

While these older films may not be as popular as they once were, they will forever represent sharks as "man-eaters". There are newer films that have taken their place as top box office earners with similar plots about how evil sharks are: 

  • Open Water - A couple goes on a diving trip in Australian waters only to find themselves stranded in open water after being left behind by their tour boat guides who did not notice they were missing because they counted incorrectly when taking attendance before departure. After being stranded for several days with little food and no way to reach land after swimming miles from where they started (which would be impossible), both die from exhaustion or dehydration or become shark food.