The Public Fear Sharks Less When They Meet Them
Researchers surveyed more than 500 visitors to an aquarium ‘shark tunnel’ to understand how attitudes to sharks and government shark policies can change. A study that parallels our experiences at Guadalupe Island for the past 18 years, cage diving with great white sharks. Once you meet a shark, your attitudes change.
Get to Know Your Sharks
An experiment involving more than 500 visitors to an aquarium ‘shark tunnel’ has shown the public’s fear of sharks reduces when they learn about the species by watching their behaviour.
University of Sydney researchers conducted a randomised experiment in Shark Valley at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium in November 2013, by setting up iPads running survey software at the entrance and exit of a ‘shark tunnel.’
Aquarium visitors were asked questions about their perceptions of sharks, their level of pride in the local shark population, their fear of sharks and shark bites, who they blame for shark bites, and the role of government in shark bite prevention. Aquarium visitors completed surveys before and after walking through the ‘shark tunnel’ while sharks swam above.
The study shows aquarium visitors were less afraid of sharks and less likely to blame sharks for incidents where a swimmer or surfer was bitten, once they better understood shark behaviour – and that sharks do not hurt humans with ‘intent.’
Shark Study Co-Authors
The study was co-authored by Dr Chris Pepin-Neff and Dr Thomas Wynter of the University of Sydney and is published in the latest edition of Marine Policy.
“When sharks bite humans, governments and policymakers fear a public outcry, and emotions are pitted against evidence-based policymaking,” said Dr Pepin-Neff.
“This study challenges perceived public support for lethal measures, such as Western Australia’s ‘serious and imminent threat policy,’ which sees sharks who swim by beaches hunted and killed.”
Co-author Dr Thomas Wynter added: “Our research echoes past studies that found little public support for killing sharks and a greater desire for a conservation focus.”
Waste dumping, fishing, and the presence of other marine life in ecosystems are thought to be conducive to shark bites, according to the Marine Policy paper, and its co-authors say these factors should be more promptly investigated following any bite incident as a means of challenging inaccurate perceptions of ‘rogue’ or ‘killer’ sharks.
Shark Divers at Guadalupe Island
At Guadalupe Island America’s Shark Boat created a cage diving operation that caters to men and women. Shark cage diving is a sport that is often thought to be dangerous. If you’re a man or a woman confronting our fears, exploring new adventures and stepping out of our comfort zone is liberating and, when face to face with a great white shark, almost addictive.