A group of shark advocates is pressing for shark “attacks” to be renamed potentially in an effort to shift the conversation about negative interactions with the creatures.
As the New York Post reported, “Marine experts and advocates in Australia are urging the public to refrain from using the word ‘attack’ in reference to sharks, declaring that the majestic predatory fish has been unfairly stigmatized as a deliberate killer.”
“Instead, officials have suggested that violent run-ins with sharks be dubbed with more neutral words — such as ‘interactions,’” the outlet added.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, this is “a move scientists say is both welcome and well overdue.”
The outlet reported:
A senior Queensland official told a Noosa shark symposium in May the state’s communications would preference “bites” over “attacks” based on social research, three scientists attending the meeting have told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Its SharkSmart website lists how to minimise risks “of a negative encounter with a shark”.
In [New South Wales], the Department of Primary Industries has also gradually moved from dubbing shark-human contacts as “attacks” in its annual reports. It has worked closely with Bite Club, a support group for survivors to inform its language.
“NSW DPI is respectful that each incident is best described by the individual involved,” a spokeswoman said, per the outlet. “DPI generally refers to ‘incidents’ or ‘interactions’ in our formal shark reporting.”
The outlet also noted that researchers said that shark interactions were locally named “shark accidents” prior to the 1930s when a well-known surgeon, Victor Coppleson, started calling them “attacks.” “Shark nets also began to be introduced on city beaches,” the outlet added.
Leonardo Guida, a shark researcher at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said that a shift in the wording matters “because it helps dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters.”
Dr. Guida added that people could distinguish between dog attacks and dog bites. Guida noted that not using the word “attacks” in reporting shark interactions “helps improve the public’s understanding of sharks and how they behave.”
Dr. Pepin-Neff of the University of Sydney added that the change in language “has been coming for a while.”
“‘Shark attack’ is a lie,” he noted, pressing that over one-third of interactions resulted in no wound.
He added that over a third of interactions leave no wound. “Many others include minor bites from small sharks – such as people stepping on wobbegongs [(bottom-dwelling sharks)] – that would not have been a predatory action on the part of the animal,” the outlet added.
“For its part, Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries said there had ‘been no formal direction in this space and some people may just have a personal preference for the language they use.’ In Victoria, fisheries describe the encounters on its Shark Smart advice only as ‘attacks,'” the outlet added.
The outlet noted that the wording can also be essential in case terms “such as ‘attacks’ prompt people to demand culls of what are already often protected animals. Shark numbers are globally in decline because of over-fishing, pollution and the increasing impacts of climate change, including around Australia.”
“The worst thing we want is people killing a lot of sharks,” said Professor Nathan Hart, an associate professor at Macquarie University.
“Sharks don’t have hands so, if they want to explore something, they mouth it,” Hart said. “Very rarely are humans consumed by sharks.”