Media Monsters: Portrayals and Perceptions

Sharks in the Media

In 2006, Sharkwater, a documentary by Rob Stewart, opened up my world. Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by the ocean, and all of its wonders. Looking back I think a lot of my fascination stemmed from my curiosity  – under the ocean lies a whole other world, and I wanted to know more. I have come to realize is that there is still a lot we don’t know about this underwater world. For example, although sharks date back to the dinosaurs, we still don’t fully understand a lot of their behaviours, and unfortunately, we often fear what we do not understand.

Great-White-shark

A recent study by Michigan State University investigated the ways in which sharks were represented in both Australian and American news. Their study confirmed that over 60% of coverage portrayed sharks in a negative light (cue the theme music from Jaws). It is these portrayals which influence public opinion, and it is these portrayals which make it so difficult for people like Rob Stewart to raise awareness on the need for conservation and protection of the species. Unlike pandas, the image of the shark has not be constructed in such a way that evokes warm and fuzzy feelings or the desire to donate to World Wild Life Fund.

Shark populations also face numerous other challenges, including the mass consumption of the traditional Asian dish, shark-fin soup. This billion-dollar shark-fin industry has not only had a plundering impact on the populations of the species, but the practice of ‘finning’ in itself is both barbaric  and inhumane (watch Sharkwater or simply log onto YouTube to see footage for yourself).

But, before I end up launching into a thesis on framing theory, public perceptions, and their impact on conservation efforts, I will just leave you with a few questions I am interested in…What  knowledge and/or attitudes do you possess towards sharks? Where does this knowledge come from? Have you ever stopped to question it?