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STUDY: 'Shark Week' Exaggerates Danger, Could Undermine Conservation Efforts

The Discovery Communications Building in Silver Spring, Maryland decorated for Shark Week in August 2012.
Discovery Channel's Shark Week draws huge viewer numbers with gory footage of sharks.

The Discovery Channel's Shark Week marathon starts this week. But UNC Communications researchers say the footage showing sharks acting like vicious predators can be misleading.

Suzannah Evans and Jessica Gall Myrick co-authored a study of people's responses to Shark Week footage. Evans, a doctoral candidate, says they found that viewers assumed they were more likely to be attacked by a shark than they really are.

Evans says sharks are necessary for the ocean's ecosystem. But they're threatened by irresponsible fishing and other hazards.

"Seals, dolphins, sea turtles, the sea food we eat... All these things are related to sharks through the food web and through the ecosystem," she says.

"Without a supportive public, you can't get legislatures, you can't get fishery managers and so on to make responsible choices for ocean management. So we need the public on our side. And when the public is consistently being told that the ocean is a dangerous and scary place, it's an uphill battle."

Several swimmers have been attacked by sharks off the North Carolina coast in recent weeks.

But the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History shows that the number of shark attacks and fatalities has been dropping worldwide in recent years.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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