Holy haberdashery, Batman! Sensationalism Strikes Again!

by Allie Wilkinson on June 27, 2009

Earlier this week, I had considered writing up a new study from the Journal of Zoology, in which the scientists used geographic profiling techniques, normally used to hunt serial criminals, in order to track hunting patterns of great white sharks in South Africa.  Of course, I wanted to wait until the article was actually published, and not write via press release.  It seems like everyone else however, went straight from the press releases, straight to sensationalized headlines.  Seeing just the first bad headline led me to search Google News and see what other headlines were being used to report this story.  BBC is the only outlet to get a gold sticker from me for their responsible use of a headline: “Great whites ‘plan’ seal attacks“.  What about the rest?

The headlines, from outlets of varying reputability: “Great white sharks hunt just like Hannibal Lecter”, “Great white serial killers: Terror of the seas target victims in the same way as psychopaths”, “Just Give Up: Sharks Are Serial Killers”, and so on and so forth.  Good job media.  Let’s reinforce the whole “Jaws” image and convince people that sharks have humans on their menu, and that they are tracking us down like Jack the Ripper, Ted Bundy, and BTK.  Good job.

As if that didn’t already get my knickers in a twist, I then stumbled upon this article from The Guardian.  The article says, ”Great white sharks could be regular visitors to the coast by the 2080s, where they could find more bathers enjoying the Mediterranean climate.”  Yes, because that is exactly the case.  Great white sharks are THAT good at detecting humans, or are THAT clairvoyant, that they will be migrating to the Mediterranean to hunt down humans as tasty little snacks.  WE ARE NOT ON THE MENU!

….and then there was the icing on the cake.

Now, my opinion of Bill Hemmer and Fox News was not too great after this post from Southern Fried Science, which featured a video of Bill Hemmer interviewing author Steve Alten on his new novel, “Meg: Hell’s Aquarium”.  Things like the photo caption saying megalodons reach up to 50 feet while Bill Hemmer says they reach up to 70 feet in length just show a lack of attention to detail, and concern for accuracy.  And don’t even get me started on Bill Hemmer’s supremely stupid facial expressions.

Thanks, Fox News.  You’ve really outdone yourself this time.  With an opener like, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water” we are right back to the scare tactics.  And I love your use of footage of a sand tiger shark while you are talking about great white sharks.  Your accuracy is astounding.  What the hell happened to responsible journalism?

gravity affect coconuts above signApparently it was also necessary to bring up shark attacks on humans instead by saying, “seals are the favorite meal, but our brain-room found 116 great white shark attacks on humans in the last 18 years, of those, 25 were fatal and 91 people survived.”  The numbers check out with the International Shark Attack File, but of course it was said in such a way as to make it seem like that was a lot.

A little perspective?  Between 1876 and 2008, there were only 244 attacks by great white sharks WORLDWIDE.  Out of thoe 244, only 65 were fatal.  That averages out to around 2 attacks per year, and only one fatal attack every two years.  Even if the numbers are a little off due to lack of reporting from third world countries, think about how many people go to the beach…thousands upon thousands.  Think about how many days of the year people go to the beach, or go surfing, or diving.  Then realize how many attacks there are.  You are more likely to get struck by lightning, or killed by a falling coconut.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacy July 6, 2009 at 9:07 am

I feel that my intelligence has suffered enormously after watching that video clip.
That news reporter is an idiot.


Singapore Clubs August 21, 2009 at 2:46 am

Sharks are great but they are still the one creature that gives me nightmares. I am fascinated watching them though.


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