The Media Needs to Care More About Sharks

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The Media Needs to Care More About Sharks

Quinn Kennedy, Editor

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Most people around the world view sharks as scary, aggressive predators because of constant media coverage of shark attacks or shark-themed horror movies. However, all of this unfavorable press about sharks diverts attention away from the issues that they face and ultimately misrepresents them. In reality, shark attacks are very rare, and sharks are a vital component of oceanic ecosystems. Unfortunately, the media often overlooks the importance of sharks in favor of sensational attacks, meaning that not many people are aware of the declining shark populations.

    Being apex predators, sharks are a very important component of most oceanic ecosystems because they regulate the populations of smaller predators, which keeps the ocean population healthy, balanced, and diverse. Also, by controlling their prey’s spatial habitats and feeding spaces, sharks indirectly manage seagrass and coral reefs. As a result of declining shark populations, there has been an increase in the populations of lower-level predators that sharks would usually eat, such as rays, groupers, and smaller sharks. This has thrown many ecosystems out of balance because these smaller predators are consuming more lower organisms like clams and scallops, significantly hurting their populations as well. With the loss of these herbivore organisms, an overabundance of algae can quickly take over and hurt an entire coral reef system. In addition to coral reefs, the loss of herbivores, especially scallops and clams, can also deplete commercial fisheries as well. The decrease of sharks in the ocean can disrupt the delicate balance of the oceanic ecosystem food chain by also impacting other species and commercial markets.

    Media coverage of sharks either depicts them as frightening creatures in fiction or as violent predators in news stories, both of which are prevalent in the United States and Australia. Both caricatures divert attention away from the issues that sharks face today. A fairly recent study of the global coverage of sharks has shown that more than fifty-two percent of reports have focused primarily on shark attacks, along with sixty percent of reports overall having been negative. Only ten percent of coverage has been about shark conservation in addition to seven percent being about shark biology or ecology. Many negative news stories about shark attacks ignore the rarity of them. In fact, shark attacks are so rare that they affect around 0.5 out of every 100,000 people in Australia. Additionally, conservation groups are not often included in stories about shark conservation, meaning that the media is not consulting them, or that the public does not see articles involving shark conservation as interesting. Fortunately, the media can solve these issues by highlighting how unlikely it is to ever be attacked by a shark, and by releasing more attention grabbing stories about shark protection, while consulting actual conservation groups.

    Shark populations are steadily declining for a multitude of reasons, and if the media raised more awareness for these issues, society could prevent sharks from becoming extinct. One issue that is seriously affecting sharks is commercial fishing. Many people hunt sharks for their fins, especially because shark fin soup is very popular in East Asia. Pollution, habitat loss, bycatch, and climate change also affect the population of sharks as well. Furthermore, it is difficult to revitalize a shark population because they have a long gestation period and small litters. Also, many sharks cannot give birth again until a year after their previous litter. However, the media can help lessen these issues by placing a spotlight how the loss of sharks would affect our own lives. For example, sharks (and coral reefs, which would be indirectly impacted by the loss of sharks) generate a ton of revenue in tourism, so without them, several local industries would take a big hit. Also, because sharks would not be around to regulate the populations of lower level predators that eat common fish, the commercial fishing industry would also be severely damaged by the loss of sharks. In fact, several restaurants across America have had to take chowder off of their menus due to a shortage of quahog. By publishing articles on how the decrease in sharks could affect humans, the media could make people care about shark conservation efforts.

    Ultimately, the misrepresentation and negative coverage of sharks hurts them because it takes attention away from the issues that plague their population. The media often overlooks the major role that sharks play in the ecosystem as well as how their loss could impact society. If the news focused more on the importance of sharks instead of shark attacks, the world could see why it is important to protect them.

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