The International Cabal of Sharks Scientists would very much prefer it if everyone could stop referring to those times when sharks attack people as “shark attacks.” Instead, The Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday that experts are now urging local government officials to begin employing terms like “bites” or “negative encounters” for future... uhh let’s see, how do we put this... toothy events given social research into how the public generally perceives and reacts to shark incidents.
According to shark researcher, Dr. Leonardo Guida, these proposed linguistic changes will have a genuine, noticeable impact, “because it helps dispel inherent assumptions that sharks are ravenous, mindless man-eating monsters.” Apparently, over a third of all shark encounters result in zero injuries, while many more only incur minor bites or wounds from instances like people “stepping on wobbegongs,” which sounds like an incredibly Australian thing to do.
In—and we can’t believe we’re saying this—sharks’ defense, it really has always been their territory we’re consistently invading, and not the other way around. As Dr. Guida and others note, the animal’s lineage on this planet goes back almost half a billion years, so sharks are still pretty damn confused by these new, ape-shaped blips on their sonars. And, on the very rare instances sharks do take a hunk out of someone, “the animals are more likely to keep going rather than have another sample of the odd mix of flesh, wetsuit and surfboard,” writes The Herald, which we assume was meant to reassure us somehow.
Then there’s the whole bit (ha!) about humans ravaging sharks’ ecosystems and wantonly decimating their populations, facts that aren’t helped by unnecessarily antagonistic perceptions of the fish... but we digress. In any case, probably the best way to think about it going forward, experts suggest, is to frame any bad meetups with sharks the same way most people differentiate between “dog bites” and “dog attacks,” which, fine, fair.
So, next time you find yourself in a “negative encounter” with a shark, feel free to sue the shark’s owner for not keeping it on a leash.
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