Shark reporting checklist developed by marine conservation group Bite-Back is changing attitudes about sharks.
Because “Apathy about shark conservation comes at a price.”
What do toasters, icicles, and hippopotamuses have in common?
They all kill more people every year than sharks.
Maybe you aren’t surprised. After all, we all know that sharks have bad press.
Shark reporting in the media is usually shock reporting.
Articles using words like “man-eating,” “lurking,” “terrifying,” “shark attack,” or “monster” are familiar, aren’t they?
We talk about sharks using language that is usually reserved for only the worst criminals.
Yet, these terms have been the “go-to” phrases used in shark reporting since the 1920s.
And although entirely fictional, the blockbuster movie “Jaws” burned this “terrifying, man-eating beast” image of sharks in our collective consciousness.
(Editor’s note: when it came out in 1975, “Jaws” was the highest-grossing film of all time. 46 years later, it still remains the second most successful film franchise after “Star Wars”. Meanwhile, “Jaws” author Peter Benchley, aware of the “Frankenstein nature” of his work, spent the rest of his career fighting against the killing of sharks.)
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The real story
Yet, there is another, real story here.
Sharks themselves are in danger – one in four species is even facing extinction.
But for a combination of reasons, their story isn’t being told.
This is a serious problem.
We need sharks.
As a keystone species, they have an oversized role in keeping marine ecosystems healthy.
Operating out of sight, sharks stabilize the food chain, keeping our oceans flourishing.
Healthy oceans rely on healthy shark populations.
And since oceans produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe and absorb 20% of the CO2 we produce, healthy oceans are vital.
They are the lungs of our planet.
“… it’s time to speak up.”
Sharks are the ultimate survivors.
They have been swimming the planet for more than 450 million years and have survived six mass extinction events.
Although they have outlived the dinosaurs, industrial overfishing is now quietly threatening to extinguish these timeless creatures by 2050.
And relentlessly increasing demand is also making shark fins one of the most prized seafood items on the planet.
As a result, 73 million sharks are killed every year for meat or so their fins can be used as the title ingredient in shark fin soup.
It is an alarming trend.
But it can be reversed.
And Graham Buckingham is somebody who is doing something about it.
“If you don’t want the oceans to die out, it’s time to speak up.”
“The biggest threat to marine life is believing that ‘someone else’ will save it.”
Graham decided to stop waiting for “someone else to do something”.
He founded the marine conservation charity “Bite-Back” to combat the overfishing and overconsumption of sharks.
Bite-Back is committed to making Britain “shark-fin-free” and hopes to increase global awareness of the need to save sharks.
Founded in 2004 in London, this charity has led many campaigns to fight against the threat of shark extinction.
And they have been successful.
For example, five years ago there were 65 UK restaurants serving shark fin soup.
Bite-Back’s campaign has helped prompt 82% of these restaurants to drop the controversial dish.
They have also managed to get well-known names like ASDA, Holland & Barrett, and Wagamama to stop selling shark products.
Their goal is to make Britain the first western country to ban shark products — shark meat, fins, cartilage capsules, and trinkets (jaws and teeth) by 2022.
Mind Your Language – a shark reporting toolkit
Their latest campaign is “Mind Your Language” and addresses the media.
Bite-Back is urging journalists to take the lead and change the narrative on sharks.
“It’s time to start accurately reporting shark encounters and turn the tide.”
The opportunity to make an impact with the media is obvious.
On average, the mainstream UK media features one shark story every two weeks.
Bite-Back sees that as 25 chances a year to make a difference to end the stigma surrounding sharks.
By reporting on the need for conservation – instead of the ridiculously low threat to human life – journalists and reporters can change the storyline.
The campaign started in July 2018.
To help journalists, Bite-Back has created a media toolkit filled with valuable info and facts.
The toolkit also provides a “shark reporting checklist” for journalists to change the narrative about sharks.
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The campaign has high-profile endorsements including Steve Backshall, Wendy Benchley, ocean ambassador and Peter Benchley’s widow (the author of the novel Jaws), and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, TV personality and famous chef.
The campaign got a boost this summer when “The Shark Whisperer” Cristina Zenato, ocean conservationist and shark behaviorist, joined in support of the campaign.
Bite-Back shows how conservation action takes many forms.
They are also showing how narratives drive action.
And by spreading balanced news about sharks, initiatives like theirs have a very real impact on our whole planet.
Feature image: Alex Rose/Unsplash
The shark reporting toolkit, the shark whisperer, and more info
Check out the Bite-Back and their shark reporting checklist on their website.
Follow them on IG Twitter and Facebook and Graham Buckingham’s Ted Talk “The terrifying truth about sharks”
Also watch this mesmerizing video of Christina Zenato, the woman who removes fish hooks from sharks’ mouths in the open ocean “The Shark Whisperer”
You may also be interested in “The youth art contest that is preserving our oceans”