Sharks – Terrors or Unwarranted Targets of the Deep Blue Sea?

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[Photo Credit: Alan Egan | www.alancegan.com]

Recently, NPR released the article Please, Let’s Not Find Dory urging the general public to refrain from purchasing Pacific Blue Tangs in celebration of Finding Dory. The author points out that throughout film history, after a friendly animal film is released sales of that particular animal skyrockets. This exponential increase is alarming because of the actions taken after the animal is purchased. Often, the particular animal is harmed or abandoned. One example, often left out of popular media is the mass public’s reaction to films featuring sharks. All of the examples listed by NPR focus on animals that have been anthropomorphized with friendly traits. However, a greater concern arises when popular culture produces content villainizing a threatened or endangered species. Sharks – the big bad bullies of the deep blue sea – are often depicted in films as blood thirsty monsters ready to attack on a moment’s notice. Even in Finding Nemo, Bruce and his shark clan are presented as killing machines. Villainizing a threatened or endangered species becomes a notable issue when the film causes a shift in the public’s perception and results in a mass hunting or killing of the species.

Upon viewing Jaws the general public began to view sharks as man-hunters that warranted killing, which caused a drastic decline in shark populations. Although not all sharks are endangered or threatened, several sharks are prohibited from being harvested. With each shark thriller that is released, the concern for the well-being of sharks increases. In order to capitalize off of the hype surrounding shark week, shark thrillers tend to be released prior or during the week. The Shallows, released a few days before Shark Week 2016, features a surfer who is attacked by a great white shark. Sound familiar? The perpetuation of this alarmist narrative has the potential to cause severe damage to populations of sharks. Although some critics claim that there is an enlightened view of sharks, from an ecological perspective it is unsettling to constantly promote an extreme fear – to the point of jeopardizing the livelihood of the animal – of a species. The mass reaction to Jaws, Finding Nemo, and potentially Finding Dory illustrates the power of film, thus strengthening the necessity for the popularity of eco-films. Instead of taking on a heightened sense of fear during this year’s Shark Week, we hope you gain a heightened awareness of shark conservation.