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Sharkbites Saturday

The geographic bias in the media reporting of predator-human interactions around the world and its impact on conservation actions

Article

Bornatowski, H., et al. Geographic bias in the media reporting of aquatic versus terrestrial human predator conflicts and its conservation implications. Perspect Ecol Conserv. (2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pecon.2018.12.004

Background

Most people around the world have already heard or read in a newspaper about interactions between humans and large predators like lions, tigers and sharks. The news could involve human fatalities or injuries or more positive incidents, like reporting of scientific findings or conservation successes in a newspaper, but the former option is the most frequently reported situation.

The way we hear about these large predator encounters really matters. Negatively reported predator interactions with humans make them seem like “human-eaters” and often result in animal culls. Some news can be sensationalized, portraying these animals as our enemies and, as a result, impact predator conservation actions. Thinking about this, a recent study by Dr. Hugo Bornatowski and his team examined how the media portrays large predators on a geographic basis—the team wanted to know how reporting of shark-human interactions was carried out in comparison to terrestrial predator human interactions.

The Study

Dr. Bornatowski and his colleagues compiled data documenting records of global predators’ incidents focusing on sharks (aquatic) and land-based carnivores, such as bears, cougars, coyotes, lions, leopards, tigers and wolves, in both rich and poor  countries. The searches collected information from The International Shark Attack File database, for incidents involving sharks and the Web of Science website, for human interactions with terrestrial predators.

The result showed that a total of 3301 shark incidents were reported in USA (42.6% of total), Australia (18.8%), Brazil (3.1%), and New Zealand (1.5%). Most of these reported attacks occurred in developed countries. In contrast, around 25,000 incidents involving terrestrial predators were reported in poorer regions in African and Asiatic countries.  The results suggest that aquatic predator-human conflicts are reported more often in developed nations while terrestrial incidents are predominantly reported in developing nations.

Number of  conflicts’ conflicts in rich (red) and poor countries (orange). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pecon.2018.12.004

The truth behind the news

According to International Shark Attack File, shark-human conflicts are very rare and occur less frequently than dogs, crocodiles, and hippo incidents, for example. Humans kill many more sharks each year compared to the number of human fatalities caused by sharks, leading to unhealthy shark populations around the globe. These animals can be killed due to overfishing and bycatch. Overall, one of the biggest reasons behind the increasing demand of shark meat is that the consumption of shark fin soup became more popular over the past years. The soup was historically limited to banquets and weddings hosted by the elite in China but the economic boom in the country made it accessible to a wider public.

Shark fin soup (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The intense media coverage of individual shark attacks in developed countries may get people thinking that shark populations are healthy. However, the worldwide catch of large sharks has increased as the demand for shark meat and shark fins has risen. Additionally, the authors believe that the negative and inaccurate public perception of sharks has likely contributed to them being one of the most threatened vertebrate groups globally.

The important role of Social Media

On the other hand, mass social media can drive a sea change in conservation awareness about sharks. In 2015, a large number of beach goers worked together to rescue a great white shark stranded on a beach in Cape Cod, USA. Also, beach users of Sydney, Australia were vocally opposed to the general culling of sharks and opposed the strategy of catching and killing sharks after a shark attack in 2017. These cases and many others around the world highlight that humans can learn to live with and respect predators, while respecting they can be dangerous animals.

Discussion

3 Responses to “The geographic bias in the media reporting of predator-human interactions around the world and its impact on conservation actions”

  1. Very valuable information. People really should read it. Good job!

    Posted by Thiago | March 4, 2019, 2:39 am
  2. Interesting!!!

    Posted by Bruno MacenaRocha | March 3, 2019, 8:30 pm
  3. Amazing!!

    Posted by Christa | March 3, 2019, 7:11 pm

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