Fear of Sharks and Its Impact on South Australia’s School Sea Activities

by Henrik Andersen
3 comments
Shark Fears

The pervasive apprehension surrounding sharks, perpetuated by media portrayals and movies like Jaws, has resulted in the suspension of sea-related activities in South Australian schools. Dr. Brianna Le Busque and Damien Marangon offer a critical assessment of this decision, underscoring the exaggerated fear and its ramifications for water safety education and perceptions of the ocean. Despite the dwindling shark populations, sensationalized accounts of shark-human encounters continue to shape public opinion and influence policy decisions.

Steven Spielberg’s iconic tagline from the Jaws series has indelibly imprinted sharks as ruthless predators in popular culture. However, beyond the terror evoked by the films, an enduring fear of sharks persists, with real-world consequences.

In South Australia, following human-shark interactions, this fear has prompted the Education Department to prohibit sea-related activities in schools for the remainder of the term. While safety considerations are paramount in such decisions, it is imperative to be wary of fearmongering, cautions Dr. Brianna Le Busque, a shark expert at UniSA.

Media Sensationalism and the ‘Jaws Effect’

Dr. Le Busque remarks, “When we hear about shark ‘attacks,’ it undeniably instills unease, especially when these interactions and sightings are sensationalized by the media.”

“As most individuals lack personal encounters with sharks, their knowledge about these creatures is predominantly shaped by what they see on television or in movies. Films such as Jaws, The Meg, or The Shallows depict sharks as purposefully hunting and attacking humans, fostering excessive fear and reinforcing existing negative perceptions.”

“This phenomenon is known as the ‘Jaws Effect’—an established trend where people harbor irrational and excessive fears of sharks. Even today, nearly half a century after the release of the first Jaws movie, it continues to shape public perceptions of sharks, hinder conservation efforts, and influence policy decisions.”

“That is precisely what we are witnessing with the current bans on sea-based water activities. The concern is that these measures could adversely impact children’s notions of water and beach safety.”

Sharks in Films: A Distorted Reality

In a groundbreaking study at UniSA, Dr. Le Busque unveils how sharks are disproportionately represented in ‘creature features,’ a subgenre of science fiction, horror, or action films where the creatures play the role of villains.

“Sharks are a common presence in ‘creature feature’ films, being the most frequently depicted animals in this category. Furthermore, of all films featuring sharks across various genres, a staggering 96% explicitly portray shark-human interactions as menacing.”

Decline in Shark Populations and the Need for Balance

Over the past half-century, oceanic shark populations have plummeted by more than 70%, with one in three species now facing the threat of extinction.

Dr. Le Busque suggests that while the bans on school activities may currently seem unwarranted, the early deployment of aerial shark patrols is a positive step toward safeguarding beachgoers.

“Early shark monitoring is a commendable measure to protect those at the beach. Nevertheless, we must strike a balance between ensuring people’s safety and preserving their access to the ocean.”

“Nobody wishes for shark attacks to occur, but these bans are inadvertently fostering the same fear as witnessed on the ill-fated Amity Island in Jaws. It’s an approach that may not be the most effective.”

CEO of Surf Life Saving SA, Damien Marangon, expresses disappointment in the ban on beach-based aquatic programs, citing a lack of consultation and an understanding of the broader impact.

“While the shark attack is a tragic incident, it’s important to remember that regrettably, more people drown in South Australian waters each year than there are shark attacks. Our data over the past two decades shows that there hasn’t been an increase in shark numbers.”

“We are concerned about how this decision affects the 3,899 students from 47 schools who had enrolled in the program for the remainder of the term. They would have missed out on acquiring essential water safety skills, potentially jeopardizing their safety in and around the water.”

“Decisions made in isolation unfortunately contribute to a fear of the ocean, which could have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for our communities, local businesses, family enterprises, and the tourism industry. It needlessly amplifies apprehension about our waters and will deter visitors from our beaches and our state.”

“We are actively collaborating with the Water Safety Unit within the Department for Education to develop strategies that will enable all participants to safely complete these aquatic education programs at the beach. We aim to base our decisions on data, research, and stakeholder input.”

Reference: “Sharks, spiders, snakes, oh my: A review of creature feature films” by Brianna Le Busque and Carla Litchfield, 31 August 2023, Journal of Environmental Media. DOI: 10.1386/jem_00096_1

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Shark Fears

What is the ‘Jaws Effect’ mentioned in the text?

The ‘Jaws Effect’ is a phenomenon where people develop irrational and excessive fears of sharks, primarily due to sensationalized media portrayals, particularly in movies like “Jaws.” This fear can influence public perceptions of sharks, hinder conservation efforts, and impact policy decisions related to shark-human interactions.

Why did South Australia prohibit sea-related activities in schools?

South Australia prohibited sea-related activities in schools following encounters between humans and sharks, which heightened the fear of sharks among the public. The decision was made with the aim of ensuring safety, but it has also raised concerns about the potential negative impact on children’s perceptions of water and beach safety.

How have media sensationalism and movies contributed to the fear of sharks?

Media sensationalism and movies, such as “Jaws,” “The Meg,” and “The Shallows,” have depicted sharks as purposefully hunting and attacking humans. This portrayal has created excessive fear and reinforced negative views about sharks, leading to the ‘Jaws Effect.’ It is primarily through these media representations that many people form their perceptions of sharks.

What is the status of shark populations in recent years?

Over the past 50 years, oceanic shark populations have declined by more than 70%, with one in three shark species now facing the threat of extinction. This decline underscores the importance of balancing shark conservation efforts with ensuring the safety of beachgoers.

What measures are being taken to address the issue of shark-human interactions?

Aerial shark patrols have been deployed early to monitor shark activity near beaches, aiming to protect beachgoers. However, there is an ongoing debate about finding the right balance between ensuring safety and preserving access to the ocean for the community.

How does the ban on school activities impact students in South Australia?

The ban on school sea-related activities affects around 3,899 students from 47 schools who had enrolled in these programs for the remainder of the term. It means they miss out on valuable water safety skills, potentially compromising their safety in and around the water.

More about Shark Fears

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3 comments

BeachBum101 November 18, 2023 - 2:25 am

Ban on school sea stuff seems harsh, safety’s impt but gotta find a balance. sharks r important 2 ocean, tho.

Reply
SharkLover22 November 18, 2023 - 2:35 pm

Movies like Jaws always makes me scared of sharks, but it’s sad how it affects policy & kids miss learnin’ safety.

Reply
Reader123 November 18, 2023 - 11:07 pm

wow, fear of sharks is srs bznss. media & movies messin’ our heads bout sharks. kids missin’ out on water safety, not gud.

Reply

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