News Media Portrayal of Sharks and Their Conservation

Published online on 30. October 2012

Australian and U.S. News Media Portrayal of Sharks and Their Conservation

Bret A. Muter, Meredith L. Gore, Katie S. Gledhill, Christopher Lamont, Charlie Huveneers


Investigation of the social framing of human–shark interactions may provide useful strategies for integrating social, biological, and ecological knowledge into national and international policy discussions about shark conservation. One way to investigate social opinion and forces related to sharks and their conservation is through the media’s coverage of sharks. We conducted a content analysis of 300 shark-related articles published in 20 major Australian and U.S. newspapers from 2000 to 2010. Shark attacks were the emphasis of over half the articles analyzed, and shark conservation was the primary topic of 11% of articles. Significantly more Australian articles than U.S. articles treated shark attacks (χ2 = 3.862; Australian 58% vs. U.S. 47%) and shark conservation issues (χ2 = 6.856; Australian 15% vs. U.S. 11%) as the primary article topic and used politicians as the primary risk messenger (i.e., primary person or authority sourced in the article) (χ2 = 7.493; Australian 8% vs. U.S. 1%). However, significantly more U.S. articles than Australian articles discussed sharks as entertainment (e.g., subjects in movies, books, and television; χ2 = 15.130; U.S. 6% vs. Australian 1%) and used scientists as the primary risk messenger (χ2 = 5.333; U.S. 25% vs. Australian 15%). Despite evidence that many shark species are at risk of extinction, we found that most media coverage emphasized the risks sharks pose to people. To the extent that media reflects social opinion, our results highlight problems for shark conservation. We suggest that conservation professionals purposefully and frequently engage with the media to highlight the rarity of shark attacks, discuss preventative measures water users can take to reduce their vulnerability to shark encounters, and discuss conservation issues related to local and threatened species of sharks. When integrated with biological and ecological data, social-science data may help generate a more comprehensive perspective and inform conservation practice.

Conservation Biology. Early View Version. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01952.x



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