Friday, March 13, 2009

Sharks and the Media: another casualty

Several months back, an unfortunate incident took place where several free-divers spearfishing and filming in the Gulf of Mexico were approached by a large tiger shark whose moves were perceived as aggressive and so began a long and tortuous (for the shark) adventure to kill the offending animal. The incident is now getting wide media attention on morning talk/news shows and several online news sources - once again perpetuating the evil shark mythos.

My colleague, Patric Douglas, CEO of, posted a comprehensive op-ed on his blog. Dead on, no need for me to say more.

Shark Kill - The "Sin of Media"

Friday, March 13, 2009

Last month we blogged about an Outside Magazine article called Ready, Aim, Sushi. The story was about a group of professional spearos caught in a "life and death" moment with a large tiger shark.

Shark Perceptions

At the time we wanted to know more and called Ryan McInnis who shot much of the video of this tragic event. Ryan was upset about this, in his world the killing of a tiger had never happened and according to him it was unavoidable.

In fact none of these free divers had ever encountered a tiger at this site.

Some of the video supports Ryans claim that this animal was ready to attack - from his perception. A large tiger coming in danger close, frantic voices can be heard in the distance. To others in our industry who have had 100's of hours with tigers this video shows nothing more than a curious animal.

For a spearo who has never encountered a tiger having an animal this large come within six inches, head on, might be considered a prelude to an attack, justifying a kill.

That fact of "justified kill" remains debatable depending on your perception of sharks. As this story has blown up in the media those with many hours of experience with tigers are calling foul, or worse. Those with many hours of experience are in the absolute minority as well, and come to the table with a full understanding of these animals under a range of conditions that few in the general populace understand.

The Sin of Media

What I think is more to the point in this discussion is not what happened, or even why it happened, it is the "Sin of media". This absolutely sad story about a split second perception of a large predatory sharks "intentions" was well documented by the spearos. In fact one might argue too well documented. As these spearos recount, the final death of this animal took two hours, after six shafts were put into the shark, it was dragged behind the vessel, and finally was put to rest with a dive knife to the brain. Horrific.

In my opinion, where this group goes completely wrong, nine months after the event, is to appear on major news channels to recount their stories. In effect being used by a biased anti-shark media to regurgitate a man vs shark 70's story that pushes the perception of sharks back into the stone age. The "Sin of media". There's really no point for being on television with this story but for the two minutes of fame it generates.

This story has been picked up by the British tabloids and has migrated to the US where these spearos are on the morning talk shows and CNN. The "Sin of media" is taking a negative shark event and allowing it or promoting it to a wider audience, where sharks are once again seen in the worst light.

Did these guys stage the whole thing? They might have. In my conversation with Ryan he was verbally upset and even broke down on the phone. If they staged the event - why wait nine months to get major media attention?

I keep coming back to the "Sin of media". These guys documented an unusual event in great depth. They killed a tiger they felt was going to attack. All of that is horrific enough. The real sin is showing this to the world with the perception that tigers in close proximity are "going to attack".

Shark Diving Industry

Industry members are outraged as we suggested they would be last month. We know the worlds perception of sharks is ultimately negative, and these stories serve to cement that perception into the zeitgeist. As an industry we can help change this, media is not a one way street. We need more pro-shark 2 minutes PSA's on You Tube and elsewhere. We need more pro-shark dive media everywhere. We need effective counters to media stories like this when they break, from credible sources.

If we want to see change to the perception of sharks, we have to make that change. Getting in front of the major media with our own pro-shark stories would be a good first start.


DNLee said...

hi there. welcome to Nature Blog Network. I see you're a marine blogger - a shark blogger to be exact. Seems like there is a growing number of you all - a friend of mine is also a shark blogger.

Hello and welcome and I look forward to your posts.

RTSea said...

Thanks DNLee and welcome to RTSea!

My blog does lean toward marine issues although I try to touch on a variety of issues. Because of my work as a filmmaker, I have a definite interest in sharks.

Unfortunately, as this post shows, sharks suffer a particularly harsh fate not because they are ignored but because they are badly misrepresented.

Steve R said...

Hey. I happened across this story in the Metro, a free UK newspaper and stablemate of the Daily Mail. Like it's sister title, the Metro is as inane and unbalanced as they come, a pathethic excuse for journalism. So it was no surprise to see the story was sensitively reported with the words "Monster" emblazoned across the front page.

I was so annoyed, I actually wrote in to complain. So far nothing. Can't say I'm surprised, though.