It's summertime in the U.S., folks are vacationing, heading to the beaches (well, maybe not the Gulf, unfortunately) to frolic in the surf. And like clockwork, the media reports begin to pile up, one after another: sharks reported cruising the coast, increases in sharks, attacks on the rise, it's the revenge of the evil elasmobranch . . . ad nauseam.
Following a very successful week of programming for the Discovery network (this year, Shark Week brought in its highest ratings ever at over 30 million viewers), there have been reports of white sharks seen along Southern California beaches along with indications that the population of white sharks in California is increasing; surfers are having close encounters of the third kind; shark incidents in Australia are filling the news pages of sites like Underwater Times; and South Africa has issued a coastal shark warning. I think it peaked last week but there was a moment where it seemed like the world was about to be swallowed up.
It's not the individual reports that are necessarily the problem - I'll give the reporters the benefit of the doubt that what they are writing is researched and factually accurate. And there have been some very good articles from the likes of Pete Thomas, as an example (although, Pete, you succumbed to the "summer of the shark" title temptation). My concern is the collective result of all this reporting and the impact it has on the general public's view towards sharks and, by extension, shark conservation. It makes for titillating summer media but without the all-important ingredient: context, context, context.
Sharks migrate along the California coast, giving birth in the deep coastal canyons. And this happens elsewhere in the world. Ergo, we get juveniles cruising the coastline, feeding and fattening up before the migratory impulse hits them and off they go on their annual journeys. It happens every year. Perhaps there might be a spike in sightings, maybe in actual number, but those have always been considered anomalies. Is the California population actually increasing? Well, if it is, as recently reported, then that would be GREAT! But still no reason to fear, statistically-speaking.
And speaking of statistics, we all know that with more people in the water, the chances of a sighting or an encounter goes up. Drastically? Well, no - but that always seems to get glossed over.
So, the bottom line is: this shark activity is all VERY NORMAL! Time of year, migratory and birthing patterns, increased numbers of people in the water - with these factors there is bound to be an increase in sightings or encounters. Sharks just don't need the accompanying hysteria when its whipped up by the media. Shark conservationists are having a tough enough job as is.
BTW: Regarding shark conservation, there is some interesting headway being made in Hong Kong, where Asian-based conservation groups are promoting anti-finning policies. Read the latest from The Daily Caller.