UF expert: Coverage of sharks in media skewed

Dana Hatchett, Alligator Staff Writer

Between eight shark attacks occurring on the North Carolina coast over the past month and the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” kicking off Sunday, the big creatures of the sea have been a talking point this summer.

But UF shark expert George Burgess said there is one main reason why the shark craze is picking up as of late: It sells.

“The media is focused on shark attacks,” Burgess said. “I want to focus on shark conservation.”

Burgess, the program director and coordinator of museum operations for shark research at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said shark attacks have been increasing recently because the human population keeps increasing.

“(For) every person that’s killed by a shark each year, 10 million sharks are killed by humans,” Burgess said. “You get a really good perspective on who’s the real attacker.”

Shark populations, while also increasing, are still lower than they were even 25 years ago, Burgess said.

“It’s a shame,” Burgess said. “They’re still really low.”

Burgess compared the increase in shark attacks to the increase in car accidents over the last 100 years.

“The rate of car accidents have increased in 2015 but that doesn’t mean that cars aren’t less safe than they were in 1915,” Burgess said. “There are just more cars on the road, making the probability of an accident increase.”

Even with the recent media obsession over sharks, Afsana Khan, an 18-year-old UF political science freshman, said she still has no problem going into the ocean.

“(Shark attacks are) just publicized because the attacks happened in the same place,” Kahn said.

In Oak Island, North Carolina, two shark attacks occurred back-to-back. Chris Anselmo, fire chief of Oak Island Fire Department, was called to both scenes.

Anselmo said both victims were about 20 yards away from land and in waist-deep water.

The Oak Island Fire Department is sending out a list of precautions to avoid shark attacks. Some of the precautions include to think like a shark, swim in groups and avoid looking like a seal.

[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 7/7/15]



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